The Foxcroft Academy alumni field hockey game was the first activity to take place on the artificial turf at the newly opened Jim Robinson Field House. Credit: Stuart Hedstrom / Piscataquis Observer

DOVER-FOXCROFT — Foxcroft Academy has opened its 80,000-square-foot field house, complete with artificial turf and a three-lane indoor track around the playing surface.

The $7 million facility with its regulation size-field hockey and soccer field inside will accommodate student athletes and the community for games, practices, activities and health and wellness year-round, school officials said.

Friday’s opening of the Jim Robinson Field House kicked off the school’s year-long bicentennial celebration and the 2022 Alumni Weekend. The new field house built in one of Maine’s least affluent and most rural counties was several years in the making before construction began in April 2021 during the pandemic, which caused supply chain problems and worker shortages, among other issues.

Jim Robinson, a 1959 graduate of Foxcroft Academy, secured the naming rights for the new building, which is next to his business A.E. Robinson on the western edge of the school’s West Main Street campus and not far from the Piscataquis County Ice Arena.

“This is truly a community celebration as it took a community working together to raise the resources needed. (More than) 400 donors pledged and contributed the funds to reach the original goal of $5.5 million and covered much of the overage caused by the pandemic,” said Foxcroft Academy Head of School Arnold Shorey during the dedication ceremony.

A track measuring a fifth of a mile goes around the perimeter of the Jim Robinson Field House on the western edge of the Foxcroft Academy campus. Credit: Stuart Hedstrom | Piscataquis Observer

Among the many people who took part in the “Building on Tradition” capital campaign were the late Earl and Phyllis Wiley, who donated their home so the land could be used for the field house, Shorey said. A bench was placed inside the building in their honor.

Others Shorey mentioned were the Libra Foundation, which made it possible for the school to operate the ice arena, and the Foxcroft Academy Board of Trustees, whose 19 members contributed 25 percent of the field house costs. Residents Charlie Merrill and Jane Hibbard-Merrill gave the gift of the field house track.

Other areas funded by individual donors or businesses were the training room, fitness room, administrative office, locker rooms, mechanical room, jumping pit, batting cages and scoreboard.

“I think that this facility and Foxcroft Academy in general are going to cause people to think hard and think twice about whether they really want to come to the coast because we have the facilities here that are equal to or superior to most any other place in Maine,” said trustees Chairperson Richard Swett. “We have wonderful people who live here and we have plenty of room. I think this facility will be a strong driver of people moving to our area.”

The Jim Robinson Field House features space for regulation-size field hockey and soccer fields. Credit: Stuart Hedstrom | Piscataquis Observer

Building and Grounds Committee Chairperson John Wentworth said Foxcroft Academy has been investing in infrastructure for the past two decades, including building two dormitories and a new English wing, doubling the size of the tennis courts, improving the existing gymnasium and upgrading the dining and food service areas.

“This is a breath of fresh air to be sitting here and looking at this fine facility,” he said.

Wentworth said it has been a challenge to accommodate all activities, such as basketball and indoor track. Trustees looked at building an additional basketball court on the west side but quickly saw it would be cost prohibitive, he said.

The Libra Foundation jump-started the project with $2 million, then the community and businesses donated to the funding. Price increases, shortages and supply chain issues added challenges beyond the funding, he said.

The 80,000 square feet is enough space for 450 cars, 30 average-sized homes or a 747 aircraft with its wings clipped, said Jason Merriam of Merriam Architects in Rockland, who designed the building. It features a brick facade to match the academy, glass in the lobby, translucent window panels for natural light and a mezzanine for spectators, he said.

The project took 30,000 hours of labor to build on the 6 acres, and each roof beam weighs about 18 tons, according to Sheridan Construction Corp. Vice President of Construction Gil Thibeault. Sheridan of Fairfield was the contractor.

The building roof will be the site of the largest rooftop solar installation in Maine, using approximately 2,500 solar panels, said UGE Vice President Tyler Adkins, a member of the Foxcroft Academy Class of 2003. Work will begin in the fall for the project to be operational by spring. It is expected to offset the school’s power consumption and that of the school district’s facilities on the other side of town.

A long-term agreement between UGE and the two educational entities will provide power at a reduced rate for 20 years, Adkins said. The installation will generate 16,500 metric tons of offsets over its lifetime — about 40 million miles driven by car, Adkins said.

Money for the field house was raised in the name of longtime field hockey coach and educator Gene Philpot, for whom the artificial turf field is named. Philpot won more than 350 games in her 35 years leading the Pony field hockey program, but also is a role model for students and adults, FA head of school Shorey said.

“She is more than just a field hockey coach, she is a mentor and an educator, “ said Kelly Chase-Dennis, a 1999 Foxcroft Academy graduate. “She provided us with so many foundational skills.”

After the grand opening, Philpot dropped the ceremonial first ball for many of her former players and other Ponies who played after the longtime coach left, and the turf was used for the first time in a Foxcroft Academy alumni field hockey game.