There is a field shortage in Windham. For weeks there has been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction within the town primarily over the property at Gambo field, used and developed by Windham Youth Soccer (WYSA). Although the fields at Gambo have been under the care of Windham Youth Soccer since at least 1998, that organization does not own the land they have improved over the years.
Windham Youth Lacrosse Organization (WYLO) has grown in the last two years from a fledgling program to one that registered 250 players for the spring season. They have grown so fast there they haven’t had the opportunity to locate useable fields although they began looking in the fall of 2011.
Windham, like other communities, faces the ever increasing demand for athletic open spaces. High school athletics take priority over the recreational leagues, many times bumping those teams off over used fields.
In the spring, flat fields at the school campus are used primarily by lacrosse, but are also used by Windham Little League for T-ball and coach pitch games. Little league also uses the fields Manchester School.
Given the fall usage, the high school stadium field needs time to rest, as does the football practice field. In the fall, these fields get used by football and soccer from several levels. High school lacrosse usually starts having their games at the stadium mid-May, said Rich Drummond, Windham’s athletic director.
“(Drummond) has been fantastic with us. His fields are taking a beating they are way over used,” said WYLO president Dough McInnis.
With all the school fields occupied, WYLO looked around Windham to find available fields. What they found was Gambo fields and a much forgotten about lease agreement between Windham and the Portland Water District. The property at Gambo Road is owned by Portland Water District and is leased to the town for $1 plus yearly taxes, which averages $800, according to WYSA.
The debate over the fields at Gambo Road became an issue after both parties were frustrated with the lack of action on the part of the town. WYLO had spoken with Town Manager Tony Plante about the need for field space, said McInnis. He also said they turned in a plan to Plante outlining what WYLO wanted to use at Gambo fields.
WYLO had an informal meeting with WYSA in February of 2011. “We outlined what we were looking for. We said, ‘we’ll write a check out to you right now. Make sure your program isn’t compromised by wear and tear on the fields’,” said McInnis. WYLO would like to use four fields at Gambo for practice and games for their youngest players. In 2012, Brian Ross and Tony were going to be the mediator. The town told us to work with them,” said McInnis.
“Windham lacrosse never presented us with anything, no concrete plan, no concrete financial plan at a board meeting,” said WYSA vice president Shari Levesque. She stated that WYSA carries their own liability insurance and pays all the maintenance for the fields at a cost of $20,000 to $25,000 a year.
“We do not want to approach this in any negative way,” said Levesque.
“The town is lacking in fields for one reason. The town has said, ‘you pay your own way,” said Town Councilor Dave Nadeau. “This town does no planning. We’re putting together another comprehensive plan. You have to be involved in this.”
“We need equitable access to Gambo for all youth sports and organizations,” said Mike Ross, vice president of WYLO at the public comment section of the Windham Town Council meeting Tuesday. “I understand that soccer has a hefty investment there,” he said. “It’s not about the youth organizations, it’s about the children.”
“We want them to learn the sport, bring a championship to the high school and get scholarship for athletes,” said McInnis.
WYLO parent Lori Witherow spoke as well. “I as a tax payer feel I have every right to go to Gambo to kick a ball.” Her daughter, Carly asked to use Gambo fields “so we can practice and play games so we can be the best we can be to represent Windham.”
WYSA president Jennifer Kent spoke in soccer’s defense. “Windham had no desire to develop the property (when they first leased the land). We’ve put half a million dollars into the property with no tax payers money,” she said.
“We built field F with our money and the club money. We got approval from the town for field G. I added onto the parking personally,” said former grounds keeper at Gambo Jim Cummings. He told the council that the fields were built to the bare minimums because they were using what money they had, but that also means that the fields can’t take over use. “It’s a matter of capacity,” he said.
Other fields and town own land that could be developed are Lincoln Circle, a field developed by Peter Busque eight years ago, Windham Christian Academy has fields for a fee, The Donnabeth Lippman Park at Chaffin Pond is slated for development, but according to one woman, not even an acre of that land was earmarked for fields. The final place is a 24-acre parcel of land near the rotary at Route 302 and Route 202 owned by the town and set aside for a cemetery or public works space.
“Nobody should have a monopoly on anything in this town,” said Town Councilor Tom Gleason. “The problem is financing it. We have a money problem in this town. Where we put our resources is an issue.”
“It’s not a recent deficiency,” said Kevin Call. “We need the Windham Youth Lacrosse to do the same thing Windham Youth Soccer did 30 years ago.”
Compromise is what town councilors asked for. Councilor Peter Anania called for WYSA, WYLO and Parks and Rec Director Brian Ross to sit down and discuss the proposal for this spring season.
The town didn’t want to take a risk at Gambo, said Anania. “The soccer team took that risk – that’s what it is.”
“I think it’s too bad that it got to this point. We have agreed to sit and talk,” said Kent. “I’m confident we can work this out.”