April 06, 2020

Arts center, athletic fields donated to Unity College

UNITY – The nonprofit Clifford Charitable Foundation has transferred the Unity Centre for the Performing Arts and an outdoor athletic complex known as the Field of Dreams to Unity College.

College trustees voted Friday to accept the properties, which are valued collectively at $2.5 million.

“It will change the complexion of the campus substantially,” said Ken Winters of Holden, a college trustee. “It will allow us to become highly competitive in the arts.”

The performing arts center is located near the heart of the downtown, while the college is located on a former farm property to the west of town. The idea is to encourage more links between the school and the small, rural town. Unity’s population is estimated at 2,000.

College officials also applauded the move as a way to expand the small environmental college’s programming.

The Clifford Charitable Foundation was established by the late Bert Clifford, a dairy and chicken farmer who became a multimillionaire when he sold the local telephone company in which he had acquired controlling interest. Clifford’s wife, Coral, and their daughter now manage the foundation.

Before Bert Clifford’s death in 2001, the couple formed the Unity Foundation, which focuses its giving in the areas of youth development, education and the environment. The Unity Foundation assisted with the transfer.

The Cliffords also have been supporters of Unity College over the years, helping to sustain it in lean times.

Larry Sterrs, the Unity Foundation’s chairman and CEO, said Friday that Coral Clifford wanted to secure the long-term future of the performing arts center and the fields and sought out the college as steward of the properties.

“The Clifford family has a long history with Unity College,” he said.

Both the Unity Centre for the Performing Arts – a 250-seat auditorium with an art gallery and meeting rooms on Depot Street – and the Field of Dreams, which includes baseball and softball fields, tennis and basketball courts and access to Lake Winnecook – were built by Clifford in the late 1990s.

Winters, the trustee, said the college was grateful to Coral Clifford and the Clifford family.

“This represents an enormous gift to the institution. It’s a testament to their generosity to the college,” he said.

Winters said trustees are excited about the prospects it gives the college, which this year has a record enrollment of nearly 550 students.

He said trustees foresee using the center to host its ongoing distinguished lecturer series, as well as providing meeting space.

The field complex will help boost the college’s sports teams, Winters said, by giving them a place to practice and compete.

“We have quite an active collegiate athletic program,” he said.

The Field of Dreams boat launching access to Lake Winnecook, also known as Unity Pond, is a logical tie-in for the environmental curriculum, which includes outdoor recreation, wildlife biology and other related courses, Winters said.

The college has been planning to build a pedestrian bridge over Sandy Stream to provide a better link with the town, he said, and the new acquisitions should hasten that effort.

The town of Unity has first right of refusal on the Field of Dreams, Sterrs said, but since the Clifford Charitable Foundation is also providing an endowment to assist with maintenance and utility costs, the town is not expected to stand in the way of the transfer. The town will cooperate with the college in managing the sports complex, which will remain open to public use.

Clifford reveled in being Unity’s benefactor and used his wealth as leverage to bring businesses to town such as banks, or to buy businesses, like the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad, and base them in town.

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