ELLSWORTH, Maine— The design for a planned park on the site of the old Knowlton School got a thumbs up Monday from city councilors.
The council also authorized city staff to pursue funding opportunities for the estimated $1.2 million project.
The councilors did not vote to spend any money on the project during Monday’s session, but City Manager Michelle Beal indicated that she likely will seek funds to tear down and remove the former school building later this year. The cost of that part of the project, including removal of asbestos, is estimated at $120,000 and is included in the $1.2 million overall price tag.
Brent Bridges, senior vice president with Woodard and Curran architects, who has worked with the park committee to develop the design, said the committee had identified a number of needs in the community and had tried to address those needs in the design.
Among the items Bridges listed were: a water feature with fountains for kids to play in, comfort stations with restrooms and changing stations, a covered pavilion, multipurpose field, an amphitheater and a walking trail. The design also includes the existing playground as well as existing and additional parking.
“We tried to include a lot of elements so there would be opportunities for a family to do a lot of different things,” he said. “We tried to provide something for everybody.”
Some questioned whether the committee was trying to do too much, and much of the discussion Monday focused on the scope of the project and the costs involved in building and maintaining it.
“That’s an awful lot of features on 4 acres,” said Councilor Stephen Beathem.
He noted the size of the comfort station and asked about maintenance costs and who would be responsible for maintaining it.
Manager Beal indicated that the city’s public works department is responsible for maintaining other city properties, including its recreation fields.
Beathem stressed that his question did not indicate that he opposed the park.
“I just want people to be aware that it is going to cost money to be run properly; and it should be run properly,” he said. “And it should be done properly.”
He said the park would be “well worth the cost.”
Councilor Michael Boucher expressed concern about the initial construction cost and said that it would not be “financially prudent” to build the entire park at this time.
“We could spend $500,000 now and build the rest later,” he said. “That would be a good first step.”
Resident Leslie Harlow raised concerns about adequate parking for events at the park and cautioned councilors about the costs of maintenance for a large park and for the water feature.
Jason Barrett, a member of the park committee, acknowledged the costs involved, but urged councilors to consider the price tag as an investment that would create a landmark that will attract people to the city. And Micki Sumpter, executive director of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce, said a feature such as the park is another tool for the city to use in economic development.
“This is another piece of what economic development and the city is trying to do,” she said. “People will use this. It’s another key for us to say, ‘This is what we have here.”
Councilors voted unanimously to approve the design and to authorize the city manager to begin fundraising efforts. Beal indicated that initially, she has identified two grant sources that the city would apply to.