WATERVILLE — Colby College freshmen typically do community cleanups as part of orientation, but this year they will take part in an entirely different community service activity — creating temporary parks downtown.

While the project’s goal for the college is to have students interact with each other and collaborate, it also could have implications for downtown and is the latest installment in the college’s continuing effort to help revitalize the city’s center.

The Thursday orientation will include 84 freshmen and 22 upperclassmen who will serve as supervisors, according to Dela Taylor, partner in the consulting firm Nuf Sed, of Portland, which is coordinating the project for Colby and Waterville Main Street.

The students will create the parks at the four corners of Temple and Main streets downtown, using trees and shrubbery borrowed from Sunset Flowerland & Greenhouses, seats from Common Street Arts and lawn furniture from Waterville Creates!

Artists also will be involved, helping the students create sculptures with cardboard and other materials.

“It’s essentially a day of whimsy that we’re offering,” Taylor said.

The idea is to have the Colby students interact with each other and the community as part of an experiment to explore possible walkable spaces downtown, according to Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Waterville Main Street, which works with Colby freshmen each year on orientation activities.

“This year we were trying to do something just a little bit more interesting and interactive with students and the community,” Olsen said.

Olsen said the park project goes along with the concept of tactical urbanism, a national phenomenon in which urban planning takes to the streets. Ideas for creating walkable and green spaces are tried at no expense to the community. If they work, they can become permanent.

“They do a very low-risk model of enhancements they might be thinking about,” Olsen said.

The public is invited to take part in the project by spending time in the temporary parks, which will have games such as checkers on hand, according to Taylor and Olsen.

“It’s for everyone,” Olsen said. “This is the students doing community service, but it is for everyone to come and play all day.”

The students will set up the temporary parks from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the parks will be open to the public from noon to 6 p.m.

“The intent is to engage the community and have them come and enjoy that space throughout the afternoon and evening,” Taylor said.

The parks will be dismantled at 6 p.m., she said. The experiment will occur as the monthly farmers market is open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. in The Concourse.

Taylor and her business partner, Dugan Murphy, have backgrounds in economic development and leadership development. Murphy has experience in urban planning and community development. Taylor was former director of the Leadership Maine Program and has experience in group facilitation and coaching.

Olsen contacted them to coordinate the day’s activities Thursday and handle communications. Taylor and Murphy will guide the student volunteers, who will be meeting each other for the first time and getting to know each other. Taylor and Murphy will give them design ideas but will leave a lot of work to the students.

The parks will be built in the driving lanes of Temple and Main streets closest to the corners and parts of those lanes will be closed for the work, but traffic will still be able to come and go, Taylor said.

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said he doesn’t think closing those lanes will cause traffic problems.

“They applied for a permit. I think we’ll be all set for the time that they will be there,” he said.

The students will take traffic measurements to see what occurs with traffic, including how much space is needed for vehicles and whether they move more slowly, and the data will be given to Waterville Main Street, Taylor said.

DOWNTOWN MURAL

On hand for the activities Thursday will be Sandra Remme, a professional muralist who will work with both Colby and Thomas College students later in the month to paint a mural on the outside wall of Happy Trails and Joe’s Smoke Shop on the corner of Temple and Main streets, owned by Jim and Angel O’Keeffe.

Remme will have a mockup of the mural on hand during the parks project. She initially was to paint the mural Thursday, but her schedule changed, requiring her to do it later in the month, Taylor said.

Jim O’Keeffe is enthusiastic about both the mural and the parks project. He said he was approached by Olsen and Colby officials about putting a mural on the Temple Street side of his building and he readily agreed, stipulating that Remme, a friend and well-known worldwide, do the work. O’Keeffe also recommended wrapping the mural around the back of the building so that people approaching downtown from Head of Falls would see it, and organizers agreed, he said.

“Colby has purchased real estate downtown to become more involved in downtown development and improving the downtown, which I think is fantastic,” he said.

The mural itself carries a theme of unity among Thomas, Colby and the downtown, he said, and embraces the heritage and history of Waterville. He added that the effort to connect the colleges with the community is commendable.

“I think it’s long overdue and I think it’s awesome,” he said.

O’Keeffe and his wife, he said, were honored to have been asked to participate.

“I’m flattered that they want to put a mural on my building,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do it, but I can’t afford it. We love art. Having Colby and Thomas and the city of Waterville reach out to us makes us feel more welcome than ever. We’ve been here 20 years. We’re honored.”

WHAT’S POSSIBLE

Taylor said one of the ideas behind the parks effort is a concept called Park(ing) Day, which was launched years ago in communities across the country. A community takes over metered parking spaces to create temporary parks, and in many instances those parks became permanent, she said.

The experiments provide a way to envision the potential in downtowns and can lead to public planning decisions, she said.

“What we really love is for the public to enjoy this space and see what is possible for Waterville’s downtown in the future and how they can actively be involved in creating the city they want to see,” she said. “We invite all (in the) community. All are welcome, and we’ll be collecting feedback.”

Michael Loginoff, a Colby senior and president of the Student Government Association, said the orientation project is a great way to help create meaningful relationships between Colby and the community.

“The primary thing is, we want these students to recognize and realize and embrace the fact that Waterville is their home for the next four years,” Loginoff said.

It is important, he said, that students engage with and invest in that home in a meaningful and productive way. He noted that Colby students already engage in the community in many ways, including by volunteering at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter and the Waterville Food Bank.

Loginoff, who is majoring in history and Russian language and culture, worked this summer for the Office of Campus Life at Colby and worked on scheduling the orientation event. He said the project coincides well with the goals of the Student Government Association, which also focuses on working to develop a continued relationship between students and the Waterville community.

Community businesses, including GHM Insurance on Main Street and Universal Bread Bakers and Heirloom Antiques and Vintage on Temple Street, are supporting the activities Thursday, as is Healthy Waterville, a program that fosters community partnerships for improved public health, Taylor said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17