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Maine Horse Track to Become COVID-19 Vaccination Site

Mon January 25, 2021 - Northeast Edition
News Center Maine

The developers of the Downs in Scarborough will turn the old harness-racing grandstand into a temporary COVID-19 vaccination clinic for MaineHealth. (Jim Neuger photo)
The developers of the Downs in Scarborough will turn the old harness-racing grandstand into a temporary COVID-19 vaccination clinic for MaineHealth. (Jim Neuger photo)

The owners of the former Scarborough Downs harness racing track are donating use of the facility's grandstand to MaineHealth so it can be converted into a high-volume COVID-19 vaccination site.

MaineHealth announced the new site preparation in Scarborough on Jan. 21. It will be open to all eligible Maine residents, said Dora Mills, a hospital system doctor.

"The goal is shots in arms as quickly as possible," she said. "I walked in and said, 'This is the perfect set up.'"

Crossroad Holdings, the Scarborough-based company that is redeveloping 500-plus acres at Scarborough Downs, has diverted its construction crews to retrofit the grandstand within a two-week period.

The 30,000 sq.-ft. clinic will have more than 100 MaineHealth employees and volunteers on-hand and will be able to vaccinate at least 1,000 people per day.

It is expected to be operational for six months, and longer if needed, said Peter Michaud, managing partner of Crossroad Holdings, which owns the former racetrack.

"We saw an opportunity to help," he explained. "Anything we can do to help stand the great state of Maine back up on its feet, we want to do that within our power."

A 40-member building team managed by Scarborough's Maine Properties and Risbara Brothers Construction is working seven days a week to complete the clinic for an opening at the end of January or early February. The construction teams are building clinical workspaces, improving access to high-speed broadband and building out refrigeration rooms needed to house the vaccines.

The state of Maine is assisting with on-site security.

"[The Scarborough vaccination site] will reduce pressure on other parts of the system," said Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director. "It's like there being a bunch of different lines at the grocery store. When they see congestion happening, they open up more cashiers."

"Finding a space that is centrally located and able to accommodate all the needs of a high-volume clinic is vital to our efforts to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible," Bill Caron, CEO of MaineHealth said in a news release. "This generous donation from Crossroad Holdings is a big step forward in getting this pandemic under control and saving lives here in Maine."

Town leaders in Scarborough have been supportive of the project by working to quickly secure all needed permits for the grandstand's new, temporary use.

The issue now is getting more doses of vaccine.

"As soon as we have more vaccine, we're going to have the infrastructure such as Scarborough Downs to be able to get a lot of people in there," said Mills.

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