Bowdoin athletic facilities to get $8 million upgrade

28 March 2017

The patched gulleys made it plain – the subsurface of Bowdoin College’s outdoor track was failing. A new track at Whittier Field, home to Bowdoin football since 1896, was needed.

“The subsurface of the track was installed in 1970 and it had been resurfaced in 2005,” said Tim Ryan, Bowdoin’s director of athletics. “We were beyond the useful life for the subsurface and that’s what really got us thinking about what a renovation of the facility should look like.”

On Monday, the college announced a two-phase, $8 million renovation that will modernize the Brunswick facility while maintaining its century-old charm.

Whittier Field will get lights and a synthetic turf field to replace grass sod. It will become the home for both the football and men’s lacrosse teams.

Seating and a press box will be constructed opposite Hubbard Grandstand, a stone-and-brick structure with a covered seating area that’s been in use since 1904. The grandstand, a gift of Civil War general Thomas H. Hubbard (Bowdoin class of 1857), will be returned to its original footprint by removal of the wooden bleachers that were attached to its perimeter in the 1940s and 1950s.

The six-lane Magee-Samuelson track will be replaced by a new eight-lane track. The design calls for the outer lanes of the straightaway to abut Hubbard Grandstand.

Those renovations are part of the initial $4.5 million renovation phase approved by the college’s board of trustees last month. Construction will begin in May and should be done in time for the 2017 football season.

“Between the historic nature of Hubbard Grandstand and the pines that surround the playing surface and the track, it really creates a unique environment,” Ryan said. “We wanted to maintain as much of that as possible.”

The second phase of the project will cover construction of a one-story building that will include locker rooms and training facilities. This $3.5 million phase still must be approved by Bowdoin trustees, who are expected to vote on it in May. If approved, the second phase is expected to be completed in the fall of 2018.

The location and design of the new building have not been finalized, Ryan said.All funding will be through private donations.

The turf field also will be designed for use by the women’s lacrosse team, the men’s and women’s soccer teams, and intramural and club programs.

“Upon completion we anticipate it will benefit over 350 varsity student athletes, and over 150 club and intramural sports participants,” Ryan said.

Further, by providing new practice and locker-room space, it will lessen the demands on existing facilities.

“It relieves a lot of different stress points between our varsity and club sports,” said Jason Archbell, who is in his fifth season as the men’s lacrosse coach. “Now you’ll be having that turf field and the grass fields open to a lot of different club sports that aren’t able to practice until 10 o’clock at night.”

Whittier Field is currently used sparingly, in part because the college has had a difficult time maintaining the grass field since switching to all-organic fertilizers. For the past several years it has hosted four football games and two or three track meets annually.

“What I’m most excited about is that this historic athletic field that has the most beautiful grandstand in New England will get to be used and seen by more teams and more spectators,” said Peter Slovenski, who is in his 30th year as Bowdoin’s men’s and women’s track and field coach.

Slovenski said the track lasted as long as it did because it was so well built in the first place. Magee Track was the site of a 1972 United States Olympic training camp that included Bruce Jenner, Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter.

But plastic drainage pipes under the track had begun to collapse, resulting in depressions about every 20 meters that have been patched.

“After 47 years the paved surface under the track is just beyond the help of patching,” Slovenski said.

He said making the track eight lanes has two major benefits: creating a better practice space and allowing Bowdoin to host championship meets.

Bowdoin football went 0-8 in 2016, its 11th straight losing season. The Polar Bears have had four winning football seasons since 1981 and lag behind their New England Small College Athletic Conference rivals when it comes to facilities.

“Most importantly we’re going to be able to provide our football players with a consistent playing surface,” Ryan said. “The additional improvements will help with the overall experience and the experience of people coming to support our teams.”