Waterville officials are considering whether to borrow another $1 million to go toward the project that includes changing traffic from one-way to two-way on Main Street. Above, Main Street in downtown Waterville on March 22.

WATERVILLE — The City Council is expected Tuesday to again consider borrowing $1 million to help fund a multimillion-dollar downtown renovation project, a request opposed by the former city engineer.

The downtown BUILD project would transform the heart of the city’s downtown, changing the traffic on Main and Front streets to two-way while improving intersections and sidewalks.

City Manager Michael Roy last month requested $1 million in additional funding, citing unexpected costs, including rising construction expenses.

The request drew sharp concern from Nick Champagne, the former municipal engineer, but Roy said much of what Champagne argued was based on outdated information and that several of his claims were untrue.

The council voted 7-0 on May 19 to postpone a decision until June 2 on whether to approve a resolution to add the $1 million needed for the downtown project. The funding would be part of a proposed 2020 bond package that includes money for other capital improvement projects.

Councilors said they wanted to allow time to explore ways to fund the $1 million. Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, suggested federal stimulus funding could be a possibility.

Mayor Nick Isgro said he had heard comments that Roy was trying to grab another $1 million, but Roy was probably the most skeptical person at the beginning of the project — and the most cautious. Roy’s job is to carry out the will of the council, and he had been doing just that, Isgro said at that meeting.

“The City Council voted for this project,” Isgro said, “and the project is now, for multiple reasons, over budget, and the city manager is doing his job by coming to the council and saying, ‘This is the situation and this is what’s needed if you want to continue with this project.’”

The public is prohibited from attending Tuesday’s meeting because of the coronavirus pandemic, but people may watch the proceedings via a link on the city’s website: waterville-me.gov.

The city was awarded a $7.37 million BUILD grant last year to change Main and Front streets to two-way traffic, improve intersections and sidewalks and do landscaping and other work downtown as part of ongoing revitalization efforts.

The Maine Department of Transportation committed $975,000 to the project, and Colby College pitched in $1.64 million, bringing the total budget to $9.98 million. Since then, the project estimate was decreased to $9.21 million.

Roy said construction cost increases are estimated to be 30% to 40%, and with changes in the scope of the project, the project needs $1.666 million more. The excavation of Main, Front and other streets caused an increase to the original estimate for road repair, and, because of changing traffic patterns, two traffic signals are needed, which Roy said could cost $350,000 each.

Roy said he hoped that if the city can fund $1 million of the needed $1.6 million, the state Department of Transportation and Colby would help fund the rest. The council must take two votes to approve borrowing the additional $1 million, and can take only one vote Tuesday.

In other matters Tuesday, councilors are expected to consider whether to keep the Alfond Municipal Pool on North Street closed for the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A memo dated May 27 to councilors and Isgro from Matt Skehan, director of the Parks & Recreation Department, explains the pool averages 200 to 300 visitors per day, and the state recommends not opening water facilities because:

• They are often crowded and could easily exceed recommended guidance for gatherings.

• It can be challenging to keep surfaces clean and disinfected.

• The coronavirus can spread when people touch surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

Skehan’s memo also explains that breaking even financially with the pool poses a challenge, and if it were to open with restrictions, it would continue to incur the same expenses but revenues would likely fall sharply.

Officials estimate the pool would lose between $50,000 and $60,000. More staff would have to be hired to regulate social-distancing rules and the 6-foot rule would all but prevent the city from having swim lessons, which is a revenue source, and the kiddie pools, spray pad and slides would not be able to operate, according to Skehan.

Also, it would be difficult to hire certified lifeguards because many training sites and programs have been canceled or postponed because of the virus, he said.

“We understand this decision  is not entirely up to our department,” Skehan said. “We would like the council’s endorsement to formalize our recommendation.”

The council also will be asked Tuesday to consider closing part of Silver Street to traffic from Wednesday through Sept. 30 to allow more space for outdoor dining for Silver Street Tavern, The Last Unicorn and Cancun restaurants. The section to be closed would be from Main Street to the entrance to The Concourse, across Silver Street from Cancun.

A letter dated May 31 from Silver Street Tavern owner Charlie Giguere, the Last Unicorn’s John Picurro and Hector Fuentes of Cancun, explains that restaurants have been among the hardest-hit businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our indoor seating has been minimized to a point where it is nearly impossible to operate at breakeven, much less a profit,” the letter reads.

Maine guidelines released May 8 suggest that seasonal outdoor dining be expanded in parking lots, on sidewalks and expanded patios, using distancing rules, according to the letter.

The letter also notes that no parking would be lost if part of Silver Street were closed to traffic, outdoor dining is safer than indoor dining, the proposal is in line with the governor’s guidance, restaurants may be able to return to some level of profitability, abutting businesses would not be affected and the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the idea.

The council is also expected to consider whether to allow 18 Below to have outdoor dining on the sidewalk and in three parking spaces after 5 p.m. on Silver Street.

You Know Whose Pub also is requesting the council allow it to have outdoor dining on The Concourse, which would require eliminating two parking stalls for the season.

Requests to accept a $41,186 coronavirus emergency supplemental grant from the federal government and a $30,000 CARES Act grant for airport operations will also be considered, as will a request for a marijuana retail license to Amber Horizons at 75 Armory Road. A 1-year lease option with MEVS LLC for a solar facility next to Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport also will be considered.

The council will also consider referring to the Planning Board for a public hearing and recommendation a request to prohibit commercial vehicles from parking in residential areas. The request came about because of a complaint about a property on High Street.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.