Sunday, March 9, 2014
By Keith Edwards firstname.lastname@example.org
AUGUSTA — By this time next year, Mill Park should have a new $272,000 parking lot and a $100,000 concrete slab to serve as a base for an ice skating rink.
And, even sooner, that same slab could also be the site of a stage capable of hosting concerts and other performing arts at the expansive riverside park.
City councilors Thursday unanimously approved a series of recommendations from the Mill Park Advisory Committee, including the construction of a multi-purpose concrete pad and the expansion of electrical power to the northern end of the park.
None of the additions will be paid for directly from tax dollars.
The $272,000 to build a paved, striped parking lot at the park, where the main lot is now dirt, will come from money approved by voters in a 2001 $2.5 million referendum for parking solutions for downtown.
The bulk of the money built a parking garage just above Commercial Street. The remaining money was reserved for a parking lot at Mill Park, but construction of the lot was delayed because officials knew the Greater Augusta Utility District’s since-completed combined sewer overflow project would be coming through the park.
With the sewer project complete, work is expected to start on the parking lot in the spring. Dahlin said the work will be done by city workers.
Most of the $100,000 for the concrete slab and $10,000 to bring electricity to the northern end of the park will come from money paid to the city as part of the same Greater Augusta Utility District project, according to Leif Dahlin, city services director.
The utility district paid the city $90,000 to use Mill Park as the location of two massive underground overflow storage tanks installed to prevent combined sewer and rainwater from entering Bond Brook during major storms.
And S.E. McMillan, the contractor on the sewer project, paid the city $15,000 for use of more of Mill Park during the project.
An additional $10,000, which will be used for park improvements, was paid to the city by Central Maine Power to use city land as working space for a tainted soil mitigation project along Bond Brook.
While there is already an area for skating at the park, it is on grass and dirt, which Dahlin said can be problematic surfaces to make ice for skating. Dahlin also said the slab could serve as a base for a stage which could be put up to host performing arts events at the park, which is on the site of the Edwards Mill, which burned down in 1989.
“I’ve been doing natural skating rinks for more years than I care to admit, and it’s tricky business when you put it directly on dirt or grass,” Dahlin said. “Things creep up. We feel a slab will also provide opportunities for the performing arts. You can bring in a stage. Have some bands. Have some summer opportunities for the performing arts.”
The city has previously hosted some summer concerts in a gazebo on the waterfront off Front Street.
Councilors Thursday also approved using $40,000 from the city’s unassigned fund balance, an account built up with money generally unspent in previous years and reserved for unanticipated emergency expenditures, to heat the Cony flatiron building this winter.
Ralph St. Pierre, assistant city manager and finance director, said when councilors approved the 2014 budget “we made the assumption the flatiron would be sold and we wouldn’t have to heat it.”
The city does have an agreement with Cynthia Taylor of Housing Initiatives of New England, for a long term lease in which the private developer plans to convert the former high school into senior housing. However the city and Taylor have not yet closed the deal, in large part, St. Pierre said, because Taylor has not yet closed a deal for all the financing needed for the project.
“So it looks like for the bulk of the heating season, we’ll be heating the flatiron building, and we need the appropriation to be able to do that,” St. Pierre told councilors Thursday night.
Taking the money from fund balance would leave about $5.7 million in the account. St. Pierre said the city’s auditors recommend the city keep at least 8.3 percent of the budget, or about $4.8 million, in fund balance.Keith Edwards - email@example.com