WATERVILLE — Downtown was awash in color and activity Thursday as 84 Colby College freshmen created temporary parks at the four corners of Main and Temple streets as part of orientation activities.

They got to know each other, chatted with people strolling downtown, met shop owners and played games with adults and children alike in the park spacers.

“I think it’s a good bonding experience,” said freshman Sophie Wood, 20, of Sydney, Australia. “It’s good to be able to see the town and meet the people and your Colby mates.”

Wood was sitting on Main Street near Temple, chalking a pink flower on the sidewalk, as Colby freshman Pablo Castro, 19, of Darien, Connecticut, worked alongside her.

“It’s a good opportunity to get to meet people that I otherwise probably wouldn’t get a chance to know,” Castro said.

Waterville Main Street hired a Portland consulting firm, Nuf Sed, to orchestrate the activity, designed not only to help students get to know each other and the community, but also to explore ways to help make downtown more friendly to pedestrians and experiment with ways to add more walkable spaces there.

Square hay bales were placed at the four corners on downtown Main Street, designating activity areas. Traffic didn’t appear to be affected as drivers passed the park areas.

The project took place during a time when Colby is ramping up efforts to be more involved in and help revitalize the historic center of the city, make it a center for arts and culture and spur economic development.

Colby bought two distressed downtown buildings and has signed a contract to buy a third after Colby President David A. Greene met several times with downtown and city leaders, business people and others to determine what the city needs and how it can help. While Colby officials haven’t announced exactly what they might do with the buildings at 9, 16-20 and 173 Main St., they have said previously they are interested in developing a hotel, retail spaces and living areas downtown.

Businessman Bill Mitchell also recently bought two old buildings on Common Street, which he plans to lease to a restaurant, artists and professional people.

Joe Richards, owner of Headquarters Hair Styling on Main Street, came out of his shop Thursday to greet the Colby students, who were supervised by 22 upperclassmen in the orientation park projects, including golf putting at a “relaxation” park and an art mural.

“It’s fun seeing all these young people around,” Richards said. “I love having them. It’s energy, it’s exciting, it’s new faces and you can just see the energy and the fun.”

Richards, who has had his shop on Main Street for 39 years, said he never had seen activity like that on Main Street, and it was “fantastic.”

“I met a student from Bath who is third-generation Colby in his family,” Richards said. “He was excited.”

Richards told the student that his daughter, Elizabeth, graduated from Colby and Cornell University and is a tenured professor at the University of Southern Alabama, where she’s an art historian who specializes in women’s fabric art. Richards said his daughter wrote a book on the relationship of Colby and the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture and worked at Colby’s museum every year when she was a Colby student.

Richards said he is excited about what is happening downtown with Colby having bought buildings and Mitchell having followed suit.

“It’s an opportunity that Waterville can’t not jump on and be positive about. I’m thrilled to death,” Richards said. “It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Waterville, and it’s going to build on itself.”

Near the KeyBank drive-thru, students created two parks on a large piece of carpet, with colorful wooden benches borrowed from Waterville Main Street and rose bushes from Sunset Flowerland & Greenhouses. They were lounging about, each asking where another was from and talking about the week’s orientation activities, which include a canoing trip on the St. Croix River near the Canadian border.

Barbara Joseph, 65, of Canaan, was chatting with the students and even competed in hopscotch on a grid students chalked on the pavement. Joseph said she was having a great time.

“I didn’t know anything about it, and I was just going downtown and started to see what it was all about,” Joseph said. “I am so impressed. They have so much energy. It’s bringing relationships and fun and creativity and interaction downtown.”

The students timed Joseph as she hopscotched the grid in 6.82 seconds.

Joseph and Colby freshman Graeme Brown, 19, of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, chatted for some time, eventually exchanging emails.

“She’s an inspiring person,” Brown said, adding, “I’ve been to Colby three times and never to the downtown, so I’m happy to have the opportunity to spend time here.”

Nuf Sed partners Dela Taylor and Dugan Murphy, Waterville Main Street Executive Director Jennifer Olsen and Marie Sugden, executive assistant for Waterville Creates!, helped orient and guide students in the activities. Sugden was helping students on Main Street who were cutting out stencils and painting shapes on the sidewalk with paint that will show up only when it rains.

“It’s an exciting time for Waterville,” Sugden said. “It’s a great time for fresh blood coming into Waterville, and we’re really hoping to get the students involved in downtown.”

Colby junior Ted Simpson, 21, was a team leader for the parks project. He said orientation time is his favorite time of the semester. The freshman class this year consists of 510 students, and the others were taking part Thursday in all sorts of community service activities, including working on farms and helping out at Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, he said. New students to Colby benefit from the orientation experience, which creates bonds and helps students feel more comfortable at a time when they are leaving home for the first time, he said.

“It’s a huge spectrum of people who are super-excited and people scared to leave their parents and people who are just nervous,” Simpson said. “There’s definitely a huge variety of emotions.”

As students in one of the parks played golf and got to know each other, Simpson said he deemed the day a success.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s adding a little bit of color and life to Main Street — making it active.”

The students planned to leave the parks in place for the public to use and enjoy and come back to dismantle them at 6 p.m., when the regularly scheduled farmers market opens in The Concourse.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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