LEWISTON — With strong vocal opposition from Jim Handy, who stormed out of the meeting, the School Committee Monday approved a fundraising plan to build a bigger and better community athletic complex by selling the naming rights of the fields, the concession building and even bricks on a wall.
The name-that-field fundraising plan to improve Franklin Pasture at Lewiston High School now goes to the Lewiston City Council.
The city, not the School Department, owns the athletic fields, tennis courts and track that make up Franklin Pasture. Under the plan, if someone pays $750,000, Franklin Pasture could be called something else. As proposed, only the name of the Don Roux football field is not for sale and would remain the Roux field.
Selling the rights to names is how the Lewiston Athletic Foundation Trustees, a group of local sports supporters, educators, city leaders and business people propose to build a new $3.8 million complex without cost to taxpayers.
School Committee veteran and former chairman Handy said he was opposed and that the school board lacks authority to do anything about inappropriate advertising.
Giving permission to a group not elected by citizens, Handy said, means they could end up with a Hollywood Slots swim team or an Oxford Casino track field. “They may not have a problem with Trojan Condoms.”
Handy said he doesn't want students “to be raised in a school where every inch of flat surface ends up being advertising, including space on public buildings sold to the highest bidder,” he said. “This corporatizes and professionalizes high school sports,” creating more pressure for teams to win to justify corporate investments.
To improve fields there should be a legitimate capital campaign “that does not include the selling of our schools. Once we've opened that door, it's free game.”
Other committee members disagreed.
Paul Dumont said no one wants to see sports facilities named after casinos. “That's a given.” But while local company Federal Distributors pushes beer, "they also push Gatorade and water.”
Dumont warned against being too picky about accepting corporate money. “If they want to give us money, hey, I'm right here, man. Help me out.”
Committee member Sonia Taylor said businesses are a part of the community. “We will not have the facility we need for sports if we don't go in this direction,” Taylor said. “The taxpayers don't want to have to pay more and more. ... For us to snub our noses at them is ridiculous.”
Taylor said she understands concerns about advertising. Companies “are the ones with the money.”
Handy dismissed those arguments as faulty.
“Mr. Dumont is willing to take money from anyone,” he said. And Taylor would “hold hands with the devil.” Committee members were not considering the impact on children, the creation of mixed messages, and that they may lack the ability to prevent unwanted branding or advertising.
“We're selling our kids. We're selling our teams,” Handy said, growing emotional. “Schools should not be corporatized, commercialized.”
Handy challenged Dumont to explain what control the committee would have on advertising. Dumont responded, but did not answer to Handy's satisfaction. Handy asked Dumont the question again.
Chairman Tom Shannon broke in and told Handy he was out or order. “You asked your question. He said it was his last word!”
As Shannon called for a vote, Handy packed up his papers and put away his laptop computer.
The vote was 8-1 with Handy voting against. Handy stood up and told Shannon he's never been cut off before like that. “I resent that you control this committee inappropriately. Therefore, I cannot participate in your power structure,” he said as he angrily left the room.
After the vote, Lewiston High School Athletic Director Jason Fuller said he was excited with the prospect of moving forward with raising money for bigger and better fields.
“It's something for our community. You've got to invest in the community to get a return.” The fields will benefit everyone in the city, not just high school students, he said.
The three people who appoint members of the Lewiston Athletic Foundation trustees are Fuller, the high school principal and the city of Lewiston recreation director.
Fuller said he understands concerns about inappropriate branding and advertising. Handy “has the best intention of our kids.” Fuller said he doesn't see inappropriate advertising, such as naming a field after a casino, happening.
Those involved “have a good understanding of what's good for our kids. I'm going to try to do the best thing for our kids in our community and give them the right messages.”