GARDINER — A celebration Saturday marking the end of a two-year community planning process will also serve as a launch pad for several projects that will be carried out by community members and organizations.
Support for the projects, which include a waterfront concert series and a skate park, arose during the Heart & Soul project — a process that sought to establish a community vision and plan for the city of 5,700 residents.
The event, set to be held at 10 a.m. at Gardiner Area High School, will also include an open house of community organizations sharing their work, a recognition of volunteers, live music and a free lunch.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, who is running for governor, is scheduled to attend, according to his spokesman.
The Heart & Soul project was made possible by a $100,000 grant from the Vermont-based Orton Family Foundation. The nonprofit organization provides funding and technical and advisory support to help communities with planning and development. It’s worked with more than 20 cities and towns over the last decade, including Biddeford, Damariscotta and Standish in the state.
A portion of Gardiner’s project was guiding the creation of a new comprehensive plan for the city. State-mandated comprehensive plans provide a framework for city officials to use as a guide for making decisions. Gardiner last updated its plan in 1997.
Nate Rudy, director of economic and community development for the city, said the comprehensive plan and the values put forth during the project will be used as template for the City Council and city staff when making possible changes to city ordinances.
“I get a real sense of excitement and enthusiasm from folks who have been attending these meetings and a sense that this process has given them an opportunity to get involved and see other people are involved in sharing a vision for our community,” he said.
The project, through various community outreach events, compiled a list of about 80 projects to make Gardiner a better place to live. Organizations and individuals have stepped up to lead several of those, identified as feasible and potentially having a high impact on the community.
An additional $25,000 in funding through the Orton Family Foundation is available for implementing those ideas.
Meaghan Carlson, project coordinator for Heart & Soul in Gardiner, said the advisory committee for the project will be assisting with the proposals for the implementation grants.
“It’s exciting that we already have these ones sort of in place and ready to go,” she said.
The other ideas that don’t yet have leaders will also be on display Saturday for community members and groups to still consider taking up, Carlson said.
One of the ideas, holding an outdoor concert series during the summer at the Waterfront Park, will be spearheaded by Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center and Gardiner Main Street.
Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, said he expects to start holding the free concerts this summer, possibly on a Thursday night each month. Gardiner Main Street will also help with an expansion of a buy-local program that will encourage people to make purchases in Gardiner, or as local as possible, and to educate them about the benefits of doing so, Wright said.
He said Saturday’s event provides an opportunity to celebrate the work of project volunteers and for other people to find ways to be more engaged in the community.
One of the benefits of the two-year project has been the increase in communication and cooperation between the various community organizations, Wright said, and he hopes that continues.
Carlson, who lives in Gardiner, said the project has helped people realize that it’s easier to get involved than they thought and that their opinions are important.
“They have a really supportive community around them, so when things need to be changed or improved, we can work together to make it happen,” she said.