A bright sun shines over Hoch Field at Gardiner Area High School this past September. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Everything was lining up for the installation of a brand-new artificial turf at Gardiner Area High School last year. And then came delays. And logistical issues. And then COVID hit.

In April of 2019, the hopes were to start construction on the new facility at Hoch Field in May. The project still has not been completed, but Gardiner athletic director Nate Stubbert said the school is a fundraising push away from being able to start the work, with an optimistic target for the beginning of construction being either late December or January 2021.

Stubbert didn’t specify the total cost of the project, which was initially estimated at $700,000 before running into additional costs. He said that the school was, by preliminary estimations, between $300,000 and $400,000 short, but added that the school board offered a $200,000 loan toward construction.

For the rest of the margin, Stubbert is looking for contributions from the community. Stubbert said the goal remains to keep the project budget neutral.

“We’re trying to generate some interest again, because things have gone pretty silent during this whole pandemic,” he said. “We’re pretty close. We can see the finish line, or we can see the end zone, so to speak. We just need a little extra push to get us across.”

Gardiner football coach Pat Munzing said the new field will be a big help for the school and his team. The grass surface at Hoch Field has deteriorated over the years, and hasn’t held up for games late in the season.

“It’s just gotten so run down,” he said. “I remember that field when it was what it used to be, hosting championship games. The atmosphere and what Hoch Field has doesn’t match the condition of the field. I think once we get that turf field in there, that will all start to come back together again, which is huge for us.”

Setbacks and hurdles popped up early on in the process. Construction that was targeted for May 2019, with MainEx Construction and McGee Construction providing the work, was pushed back when the school needed to revise its proposal to the Department of Environmental Protection multiple times in order to get a permit. One of the conditions required the digging to go 2 feet into the ground instead of 6 to 8 inches, which meant more labor costs.

“Our expenses have gone up. Our budget has kind of been blown out of the water a little bit,” said Stubbert, who said the school has also received contributions from Black Diamond Engineering and drainage help from EJP. “Without those major sponsors and major contributors, it would be a heck of a lot more.”

The fundraising mission was stymied by the pandemic, which arrived in March and stopped events like a test drive at Quirk Ford in Augusta, a comedy show and a gala ball cold.

“It just kind of delayed things quite a bit,” Stubbert said. “Everything went silent as soon as COVID hit. … We stopped having committee meetings, we were having committee meetings every week on the turf field. We were starting to gain momentum.”

Stubbert said the fundraising push began back up a month ago. Gardiner is offering company logos on the playing field for $20,000-25,000, light pole sponsorships for $5,000, and bricks on the recognition wall that will be built for $150. Stubborn added anyone interested in sponsoring can call the school at 582-3150 ext. 3004.

“I think we’re pretty close, but we still need to raise money,” Stubbert said.

Stubbert said he doesn’t have any concerns about the field being built.

“We’re past the point of no return,” he said. “We have major sponsors who have given money for the field. We have an obligation to them, we have an obligation to the high school athletes, we have an obligation to our community. As far as I’m concerned, we are doing this.”

Stubbert said the plan is for the field to be opened up for use beyond the school, much like Messalonskee’s has, and Munzing said the new surface will make scheduling easier. Football will play all home games at Hoch Field, but the field will be lined for soccer, field hockey and lacrosse as well.

“There were times when we were … like ‘OK, if we play this game, soccer, you’re not going to be able to play your game.’ And it was coming down to level of importance,” Munzing said. “That stuff is all gone. And if it’s a soggy, crappy day and we’re all fighting for gym time, for football, we’ll just go practice outside on the turf field. It’s so much safer.”

Munzing said he’s hoping his senior class that missed a football season this fall will get to play it instead in the spring, and be the first senior class to play on the new surface.

“We’ve really changed our tempo, knowing that this turf was coming in,” he said. “We’re kind of a fast-paced team, we want to play fast. … It’s such a benefit to these kids and the community at large, and it’s exciting to think we’re that close.”


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