COVID-19 pandemic aid funding could pay for Festival Plaza overhaul

Joran Flynn and his son Briar, 4, spend time Monday at Festival Plaza while waiting for his haircut appointment. The city is in talks to renovate the plaza using money from the federal coronavirus relief bill. Andree Kehn / Journal of the Sun

AUBURN – A plan to renovate the aging Festival Square on Main Street in Auburn is moving forward and could be boosted by the federal coronavirus relief bill.

Earlier this year, officials reviewed designs for the redesigned 24-year-old urban park next to the Androscoggin River. After receiving feedback, they said they were on the verge of settling on a plan.

The design includes an artificial turf lawn and expanded event space, hillside seating facing the river, a group shell performance stage, and significant landscaping and seating upgrades.

Consultants at Portland-based engineering firm Woodard & Curran Inc. last week presented updated cost estimates ranging from $ 1.65 million to $ 2.38 million.

Officials included $ 100,000 in this year’s capital improvement plan for initial repairs to the plaza, but Mayor Jason Levesque says a large majority of funds will come from the $ 13.5 million in relief funding. COVID-19 Auburn received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

So far, however, no funding has been officially allocated and no timetable has been set for the work.

Levesque said a committee dedicated to allocating funding for the American Rescue Plan Act is expected to begin work in October to prioritize projects for city council. So far, Auburn has only entered into a $ 250,000 matching grant partnership with Efficiency Maine from federal funds.

Earlier this year, Lévesque and city staff presented preliminary project ideas, including market-priced housing on city land on Academy Street, a new bicycle park in Moulton Park, between Main Street and High Street, a possible extension of the Auburn PAL Center to Chestnut Street. and Phase 1 of the redevelopment of the Festival Plaza.

City manager Phil Crowell said the plaza was a qualifying expense under two sections of US bailout law related to economic support and tourism assistance.

“The need for outdoor activities that can also boost tourism has been identified during COVID,” Crowell said. “The council identified the need to improve the space for outdoor events. “

An enlarged event lawn, which would be large enough to accommodate up to 300 people, is included in Woodard & Curran’s updated design.

According to city staff members, several elements of the original plaza project failed or need to be repaired, leading the city to consider revitalizing the park rather than investing in expensive repairs.

Last week, city council members discussed several design elements, including whether to add a public washroom and whether artificial turf was suitable instead.

Daniel Windsor, a consultant for Woodard & Curran, said the original design was to “celebrate the river by bringing people to the edge, creating an amphitheater-like setting.” A ramp accessible by the American Disabilities Act would also cross the slope.

An updated concept shows the proposed items included in Auburn’s redevelopment of Festival Plaza.

The plan also includes areas for art exhibits and performances, bike racks, a small kiosk, and a permanent location for the town’s Christmas tree.

Woodard & Curran consultant Megan McDevitt said the work could be completed in two phases – one for the flat section of the plaza and the other for the hillside improvements – but that would increase the cost by around $ 200,000.

Consultants Woodard & Curran also presented an alternative design based on skeptical comments about artificial turf. Windsor said turf technology “has come a long way” and that there are more suitable options for a public space.

If the authorities went with the alternative plan, it would remove the interior of the turf and, instead, use planters and movable seats, which would also come at an additional cost.

An option to add a public washroom would also add $ 185,000 to the plan, officials said. During last week’s workshop, Director of Public Works Dan Goyette said adding bathrooms would be the biggest “fear” for his department. He recommended not to add them.

Goyette said the price was high for two bathrooms that would only be used at events. Officials also discussed options for portable toilets in the plaza.

A memorandum from Woodard & Curran stated that the cost estimates were developed based on “current industry prices or recent trends and are a snapshot over time, in September 2021 dollars; these costs were then increased to reflect an assumed construction in 2022. “

Michael Jamosik, left, and Mark Ozimek have lunch Monday at Festival Plaza in Auburn. The two work at Scott & Jon’s, a healthy frozen food company across the street. “We have to go out to decompress a bit, see the water and see the sky,” Ozimek explains. The city is in talks to renovate the place, using relief funds included in the American Rescue Plan Act. Andree Kehn / Journal of the Sun


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