Libra Foundation building recreation center in D-F to boost Piscataquis County renewal efforts
DOVER-FOXCROFT — Some 20 miles northwest along Route 15, downtown Monson is bustling with a sense of renewal thanks to a major investment from the Libra Foundation designed to bring new life to that struggling community as an arts and recreation mecca.
The local community center, a dozen houses and the former Monson General Store were purchased by the Portland-based philanthropic organization earlier this year along with a 70-acre farm. Plans call for creating artist residences and studio space near the center of town, while the rehabilitated store would sell art and produce from farms in Piscataquis County, which was rated as Maine’s poorest by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015.
Monson’s location along the shore of Lake Hebron and the Appalachian Trail addressed some of the foundation’s recreational goals for the project, but now officials are looking toward this community — the county seat — to forge additional opportunities.
The Libra Foundation recently purchased the former Brothers Chevrolet-Buick site on West Main Street with plans to convert the building into an all-season indoor recreation facility with artificial turf. It will add an indoor ice rink and a connecting building that would include locker rooms and spectator space and serve as the primary entrance.
The timetable for the project calls for conversion of the existing building and construction of the connecting building to be completed by this winter, with the subsequent goal of opening the ice rink in late 2018.
“That’s the idea,” said Libra Foundation president Jere Michelson. “It’s aggressive, but we’re going to go like heck to get it done.”
No price tag has been assigned to the project as the final cost of the ice rink has yet to be determined, but Michelson labeled the Dover-Foxcroft site a “multimillion”-dollar investment in the region.
“We read some data that said Piscataquis County had taken over as the poorest county in Maine, and when we started on the arts project and centered in on Monson that was a perfect example of a place that really needed a shot in the arm,” he said.
“The arts and agriculture possibilities for Monson and the surrounding area were perfect and the recreation is there as well with the Appalachian Trail and the 100-Mile Wilderness trailhead,” Michelson added, “but when we thought about this project and the fact that hockey has been gone from the Dover-Foxcroft area for a long time now, it made more sense to stay in Piscataquis County but to come down here for the recreation piece so we can draw from all around.”
Recreational investments are nothing new for the Libra Foundation, which provided construction capital and startup funds for the 1999 opening of the Maine Winter Sports Center and its two world-class Nordic ski venues in Presque Isle and Fort Kent. The foundation supported that effort for 15 years, contributing nearly $34 million until concluding its financial relationship with the MWSC in 2014.
Michelson said one reason the foundation was attracted to Dover-Foxcroft for this recreation hub was the ability to collaborate with Foxcroft Academy, which is located no more than a quarter-mile from the proposed indoor facility.
“Based on our experience, particularly with our biathlon facilities, a project like this just doesn’t work unless you have the community buy-in and we think we have that with the Dover-Foxcroft area and Foxcroft Academy,” Michelson said. “Those folks are so integrated into youth sports, and they’re pretty excited that we’re coming in with this so we think it’s a really good bet with those guys.
“When I say community support I mean county support, but I think its proximity to Foxcroft Academy is going to make all the difference because something like this just doesn’t work unless you’ve got folks coming in to help and take ownership of it.”
While the Libra Foundation will maintain ownership, plans call for the school — which already hosts much of Dover-Foxcroft’s youth recreation programs — to manage the facility.
Representatives of the foundation and school first met to discuss the project approximately a month ago.
“It was a surprise, but a good surprise,” said Foxcroft Academy head of school Arnold Shorey. “There are a lot of details to be worked out, but we’re very excited to be working with them.
“In our mission we talk about central Maine, not just our own community, and I think that was vital in their decision to work with FA,” he added. “We want to make sure that this is for anybody in the county. It’s not just Foxcroft Academy but the plan is to share it with everybody.”
The school’s assistant head of school and athletic director, Tim Smith, also administers many of Dover-Foxcroft’s youth sports efforts. He sees an indoor facility serving numerous athletic interests throughout the region.
“To me, the biggest thing is it will make some of the spring, summer and fall sports year-round,” he said. “I certainly envision playing soccer and field hockey and other sports in there during the winter and possibly having batting cages for baseball and softball to extend those seasons.
“We could start Little League a little earlier practice-wise and play field hockey and soccer a little later. I just think it’s huge in that it enables kids to play year-round.”
The artificial-turf facility also may spur the introduction of new sports to the area such as lacrosse, while the addition of an indoor ice rink may return competitive youth ice hockey to the region.
Foxcroft Academy fielded a varsity ice hockey program for more than two decades before the team folded after the 2006-07 season due to a lack of players.
That program was challenged throughout its existence because the nearest indoor rink was an hour away in Bangor. Youth teams previously played at an outdoor rink at the Piscataquis Valley Fairgrounds.
But ice hockey supporters hope having a local venue could ignite interest in what likely would be a regional program with players from several area schools joining forces.
“When we got into Piscataquis County we wanted to do three things,” said Michelson. “We wanted to support agriculture. We wanted to support the arts, which is primarily what we’re doing in Monson, and we wanted to promote recreation.
“Dover-Foxcroft as the county seat is the main recreation piece of that three-pronged process. Up in Monson we’ve got hiking with the Appalachian Trail and the 100-Mile Wilderness trailhead, but by hitting the county seat we can draw from Greenville, Guilford, Milo, Monson, even as far away as Bangor for the youth sports and hockey.”
Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
LIBRA FOUNDATION SPORTS FACILITY IN DOVER-FOXCROFT — The Libra Foundation recently purchased the former Brothers Chevrolet-Buick site on West Main Street in Dover-Foxcroft with plans to convert the building into an all-season indoor recreation facility with artificial turf. The project will include the addition of an indoor ice rink and a connecting building that would include locker rooms and spectator space and serve as the primary entrance. The timetable for the project calls for conversion of the existing building and construction of the connecting structure to be completed by this winter, with the subsequent goal of opening the ice rink in late 2018.