HOULTON, Maine — It was just eight years ago that hundreds of community members packed into Market Square for the official dedication of Gateway Crossing, a pedestrian footbridge that stretches from the North Street Bridge across the Meduxnekeag River.
A committee of volunteers worked for five years to raise the $1 million needed to build the 187-foot structure, and the fundraising did not stop there. The town and the Riverfront Committee has since generated grants and donations to create a lighted park furnished with picnic tables and other amenities, built a groomed fitness trail, and lined the bridge and walking path with storyboards that depict the history of the town and other facts about the community.
On Monday evening, however, some Town Councilors weren’t as keen about a proposal that could outfit the park with public restrooms, saying there was no money in the budget for future maintenance costs.
Bob Anderson, the chair of the Riverfront Committee, appeared at the meeting to discuss future plans for the park. He told councilors that the group believes they will need $80,000 to construct the restrooms, which they feel are needed because there are no public restrooms in the area for shoppers or visitors. The price tag does not include maintenance costs. The facilities would only be open for half the year, as the bridge and park are closed in the winter.
The chairman said that the restrooms would be as “vandal proof as possible,” modeled after rest areas operated by the state and monitored by security cameras. Anderson said there had been “very little vandalism down there,” but acknowledged that the committee also was looking to spend $1,200 to purchase new picnic tables to replace ones targeted by vandals.
In 2007, three people were charged by police after destroying several storyboards that were affixed near the railings of the bridge and also smashing a light pole near the site.
Close to $3,000 in damage was done to the footbridge. Besides the picnic tables, vandals also have spray painted signs and targeted a 17,000-pound bronze moose statue that was on loan to the town before it was eventually removed.
White said that the town did not have the money to maintain another set of public restrooms, since they are currently spending $52,000 a year to finance similar facilities at the Tourist Information Center a short distance away. The group was initially told it would cost them approximately $6,000 to $8,000 a year at that site.
Chairman Paul Cleary agreed with White, saying they could not continue to add expenses to the budget without making cuts or finding revenue. He said the project might be workable if the committee raised the money to maintain the restrooms themselves.
“There is just no more room in our budget for added expenses,” he told Anderson.
Anderson said that he did not feel the town should let vandals deter them from doing things to better the community.
“We need to make our town as presentable as possible so that people will want to come here and visit and live and do business,” he said.
“I’d like to make my house more presentable, too,” White countered. “But where does the money come from?”
Town Manager Gene Conlogue suggested that the committee could consider raising the money with the caveat that it would be returned to donors if they opted not to move forward with the restroom project. The council and the committee will consider that before making a decision about the matter next month.