The Auburn Suburban Baseball and Softball league is developing a new field complex, with the help of the city and the Maine National Guard. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — Auburn Suburban Baseball & Softball is developing a new field complex with the help of the city and the Maine National Guard.

The fields off Garfield Road, located on a portion of Army National Guard training property near Mount Apatite, have served as a community sports hub for years. But, according to Mayor Jason Levesque, when the league was recently gifted a piece of land off Hotel Road, it provided a “win-win” opportunity for both the league and the Maine National Guard.

Last week, Auburn Suburban posted a letter to its Facebook page announcing the project.

It states that the organization, in cooperation with the Maine National Guard and the city, “is working to develop a new complex for our league.”

“We are pleased to announce that last week the land started to get cleared for our complex,” it reads. “While we have a long road ahead, this is an exciting first step toward our new complex. Our board is working behind the scenes to continue to develop this plan.”

Travis Bashaw, the league’s president, said the land on the corner of Hotel and Stevens Mill roads was one of the properties considered for the new Edward Little High School, but was eliminated from consideration due to wetland concerns. However, he said, engineering work showed that there is enough useable acreage on the parcel for a field complex that will replicate what the league currently has.

The league will host a groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, but the new facility will likely not be operational until at least 2022.

Levesque said the Maine National Guard has been considering ways to expand on its current footprint off Mount Apatite Road, but has never asked Auburn Suburban to consider relocating. But, when the league was gifted the Stevens Mill land by an anonymous landowner, city officials began looking into its viability.

That included talks with the Maine National Guard regarding its training program for community projects, which could help ready the Stevens Mill parcel for new fields.

Maj. Carl Lamb, public affairs officer for the Maine National Guard, confirmed Monday that it has received an application from the city regarding “ballfield construction,” and that it is one of several “innovative readiness training” projects that are under review.

Lamb said the training is a key component of the guard’s annual training, particularly its engineer units, which have completed nearly 200 community outreach projects since 1947.

“Plainly stated, we enjoy doing them,” he said. “IRT is an excellent program because it allows our soldiers to train for their federal mission, while also allowing us to engage with and support the communities in which we live, work and serve.”

If selected, Bashaw said the guard would “scrub and level” the property. In the meantime, the all-volunteer board has been putting together concept designs for the complex.

He said once the land was gifted to the league, “we all put our heads together and kind of dove in,” referring to the collaborative effort.

Levesque said for the past few years, there has been talk in the community about the Auburn Suburban fields and the relationship with the National Guard. But, he said, the announcement shows a “great public, private partnership.”

He said some details “still need to be hammered out” regarding the new fields, but he believes it can be “the premium baseball, softball facility done right in central Maine,” with off-street parking, and better safety and access for families.

That also falls in line with the city’s recent focus on sports tourism, and would give the city the ability to host regional tournaments.

Bashaw said the Maine National Guard “never once” pressed the league about moving, and the league will continue to play at the Garfield Road fields until the new complex is ready.

He said the board has been worked on the project since this spring, when it was also faced with the decision to cancel its season due to COVID-19.

“It was hard to make that call, but in some ways it allowed us to concentrate on this project to get it moving forward,” he said. “That was the silver lining. It will benefit kids for years to come.”

 


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