Originally published in The Weekly Packet, February 2, 2017
Lawrence Foundation begins new search for rec center site
Union Street field off the table
by Anne Berleant
With a $3.5 million town recreation facility on the table, offered by Chuck and Belinda Lawrence, no one in Blue Hill—not the selectmen, the community, nor the Lawrences—wants to lose the opportunity.
But after well over a year of looking for a site for the proposed two-story, 24,000-square-foot center, the search is still on.
The Lawrences took the most recent site under review, the town-owned AA field on Union Street, out of consideration after meeting with selectmen and community members on January 27.
“Will the town support the selectmen working on a lease with us?” Lawrence asked the spillover crowd that packed the town hall meeting room.
“I think [the rec center] is a fantastic idea, but not necessarily on that land,” Chairman of Selectmen John Bannister said, describing the site as “one of our jewel green spaces.”
The Union Street athletic fields have drawn over a generation of children and parents to baseball and soccer games, many who expressed reservations at displacing the larger athletic field for a rec center.
“On any given Saturday, there’s maybe five teams playing on that field,” Adam Gray noted.
The Lawrence’s were pointed to the Union Street site by a selectman “who thought it wasn’t being used,” Belinda Lawrence said after the meeting. “It wasn’t until we started the process that we got an inkling there was more to the story.”
The Lawrences have previously reviewed and had to discard private and George Stevens Academy-owned sites because of the presence of wetlands, suitability or cost of development, but are not looking to fight over a particular site, Chuck Lawrence said.
“I’m not looking for a 51-49 [percent] vote…This has to be a win-win,” he said.
A weekend visit to a town-owned site on South Street, proposed at the meeting by Bannister, proved a dead-end because of the cost to develop the land, Belinda Lawrence said.
But she said they will continue to search.
“I’m sure it will work out eventually. Maybe there’s something out there we don’t know about.”
The proposed recreation facility would be operated by Downeast YMCA, cost $45 monthly for a family membership, and contain a swimming pool that the GSA team could also use. The YMCA daycare center behind TradeWinds, which shares a building with the Blue Hill Y Fitness Center, could then expand.
Selectman Jim Schatz had advocated for the Union Street site, “strategically located” near schools and downtown. “It’s an incredible opportunity,” he said.