AUGUSTA — Mill Park has two more places where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the Kennebec River, thanks in large part to hundreds of hours of work by three University of Maine at Augusta architecture students.

Two white oak and steel benches, embedded in granite blocks salvaged from the former Edwards Mill complex, were installed Sept. 26 along a path in the downtown park. The project cost about $3,000 and was paid for almost equally by the city’s River Walk fund and AARP funding, according to city officials.

The students who designed, built and helped install the benches were Andrew Treworgy, of Gardiner, Shauna Riordan, of Lisbon, and Sam Gerken, of Yarmouth, all part of the UMA Bachelor of Architecture program. UMA’s Architecture Lab Supervisor Oliver Solmitz oversaw the design and construction of the benches.

The project began in early fall 2017 when the Augusta Age Friendly Committee, in cooperation with the Augusta Downtown Alliance and having received a financial contribution from Augusta resident Melda Page, approached city officials about additional benches that senior citizens might use in the city. The committee then contacted UMA’s Architecture program and asked whether students could design and build two benches.

The project was not directly part of their coursework, but it did contribute professional hours — of which they need more than 3,000, according to Riordan — necessary for becoming a licensed architect.

The students, walking on Thursday through Mill Park, said they had countless designs before approaching the City Council with a proposal in May.

“Initially, it could have been an (infinite) amount of iterations,” Treworgy, a fourth-year student, said Thursday. “We had … many different iterations of the same design.”

“I think our final (meeting) we had 20,” added Riordan, a third-year student.

The students worked for more than a year on the benches, taking into account design tips from the Age Friendly Committee and inspiration from the mill complex.

“To address Age Friendly’s concerns, we made sure that the bench height was a little above average so it’s easier to get up from when sitting,” said Gerken, a fourth-year student.

The mill complex was erected in the 1840s and continued operating until 1981. The complex, save for a brick building, was destroyed by a fire in 1989. The park occupies the space where the complex once stood and is home to a regular farmers’ market, a dog park and gravel courts for pétanque — a French sport similar to bocce.

“The granite and the concrete are recycled product,” Treworgy said.

A number of central Maine business were involved in the project. Augusta’s Cushnoc Brewing Co. supplied some concrete from its new tasting room for installation around the benches, Bowdoin’s Elwell’s Masonry and Augusta’s Dufour’s Welding and Mechanical Service offered help with granite and steel work, respectively. Heavy equipment and some labor was provided by Augusta Public Works.

The students built and were on hand for the installation of the benches. The actual building of the benches — one with a back and one without — took less than a day, according to the students.

“We had the wood. We just needed to cut it down, drill a couple holes and screw it into the supports,” Gerken said.

The benches also are designed to unscrew quickly in the event of a flood in the park. The City Council raised a concern that the benches could be stolen if there were easy to remove, but removing the benches requires a special tool.

A packet of information on the project — titled “A Place of Repose” — presented to the council included five designs for benches, including some with planters built into the granite blocks.

“Now more than ever before, what we create will change the way we live,” Riordan said during the May 10 meeting. “Our team is thinking beyond the bench, beyond the site and beyond the grid to design for the people and our society.”

Councilor Linda Conti said during a May 10 meeting that she was excited to have local architecture students working on city projects.

“I’ve seen a lot of presentation by architects … and you guys did great,” she said. “You have a bright future ahead of you.”

The students all reflected positively on the experience, which was a glimpse into what architects deal with when working with communities and municipalities on projects.

“It was so much fun. It makes studio (work) feel boring,” Gerken said. “It wasn’t a hypothetical. It was real.”

“It was nice that the city and other participants were willing to deal with us,” Treworgy said. “Working with professionals, government and the team … (gives us) different aspects to learn from.”

“Overall, it’s been a positive experience,” Riordan said. “It’s a big deal for us to get out in the community to do real-life design and build projects.”

Leif Dahlin, the city’s community services director, said the price tag on the benches was a little higher than a conventional bench. But the design and convenience of the benches adds to their value.

“These (benches) are very artistic and creative,” he said.

Sara Grant, chairwoman of the Age Friendly Committee, said the students designed the benches thoughtfully, even thinking about how the benches are oriented so people approaching them will not startle people sitting on them.

“I think they turned out beautifully,” she said. “They really went above and beyond.”

Solmitz said he guided the students to create an experience with the benches, instead of only creating a functional product. He said if there were more money to work with during the project, gardens could have been installed to accompany the benches.

“By using such a long piece of granite, it begins to introduce the element of an experience,” he said.

Dahlin said he would be working on other city benches in the future, but the students said they were not working immediately any new projects in Augusta.

“(Working with the students) was an absolute delight, joy and pleasure,” Dahlin said. “They did a terrific job with their design and planning.”

“We want to do more of them,” Gerken said. “Every bench will look different; it’ll be white oak, stainless steel and granite, but a different form or shape.”

Riordan said there were talks of adding more benches along some trails on the UMA campus.

The Bachelor of Architecture program at UMA is the only five-year professional architecture degree program in Maine.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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