WATERVILLE — The year 2020 was busy as construction continued on Main Street and the Colby College campus, a new mayor was elected and officials geared up for launching an $11.2 million project to improve the downtown in 2021.

Voters in November elected Democrat Jay Coelho mayor and in December said goodbye to Republican Mayor Nick Isgro. They also approved changes to the City Charter proposed by the Charter Commission, which spent much of the year working on the amendments.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic changed the way the city operated starting in March, when the police and fire departments set up an emergency operations center at the fire station to deal with pandemic-related issues. Some businesses closed and others struggled to stay alive, including restaurants, many of which revamped their venues to offer outdoor dining.

Leaders from the Waterville Fire and Police departments discuss operations Monday at the new Emergency Operations Center with the Morning Sentinel at the Waterville Fire Department firehouse. on March 23. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“To say that 2020 was a difficult year for municipal government, is certainly an understatement,” City Manager Michael Roy said Thursday. “Unfortunately, other sectors of our economy had it even worse than we did. I do want to say how proud I am of how all our municipal employees worked through it all. Led by fire, police and public works, and including our front-line people in the municipal buildings, all of them put their personal well being at risk at times to do their jobs.”

Roy said that, remarkably, all of the city’s major projects stayed on track in 2020 and Waterville is poised for some big things to happen in 2021.

“We survived by learning to do some things differently, and I think this will only make us stronger going forward,” he said.

City officials formed a search committee to find a new city manager after Roy announced last year that he planned to retire at the end of December 2020. The plan was to select a new manager by Nov. 1 and have that person start Dec. 1, but Roy announced Nov. 6 that the schedule was pushed back because of difficulties setting up travel and face-to-face interviews with candidates during the pandemic.

The City Council on Tuesday plans to consider voting to hire a new city manager and approving a request to have Roy stay on until Jan. 30 to help with the transition. Roy has been city manager more than 16 years.

Michael Roy, Waterville’s first city manager, poses for a portrait April 18, 2019, at his office at City Hall. Roy’s planned retirement at the end of 2020 may extend into 2021 because of delays in hiring his replacement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Coelho, the mayor-elect, a former city councilor and current businessman, said Thursday that 2020 was a good year for Waterville, despite the pandemic. Neighbors helped neighbors and everyone stepped up to help the city function well, he said.

“I’m glad the construction is being done and that there’s more to come,” Coelho said. “I think that Waterville has done much better than a lot of other communities. The downtown is getting revitalized. I ran on infrastructure. My own goal over the next three years is bringing infrastructure to the South End. The South End is going to be a very big focus for me in the next three years.”

Coelho said it is important that improvements be made in places that have not seen investments in the last several years.

“I think once we start putting some attention on other areas of the city, we’ll all come up,” he said. “If you’ve got good roads, people know their money is being spent well. We want other businesses to come. We want to bring good jobs. We want them to be partners with what’s going on in our city.”

Waterville  in 2020 continued work on a $3 million project to revamp the Alfond Municipal Pool complex on North Street which did not open for the summer because of the pandemic.

“The pool is targeted to be reopened in June, right on schedule,” Roy said Thursday. “It’s going to be a tremendous improvement for the 20-year-old facility. There will be some dynamic changes that will make it much more accessible to all.”

Jay Coelho, Waterville’s mayor-elect, along the 100 block of College Avenue on Wednesday, Nov. 4. On Tuesday he won election to the office after what he called a humbling experience running for the position. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The pool work is possible because of a $2 million contribution from the Harold Alfond Foundation and $1 million from the city, according to Roy.

“Essentially, the pool is being replaced,” he said. “It’s about in the same spot, but it is a different type of pool than what we had before. It is being completely rebuilt.”

Also in 2020,  the city’s public works director, Mark Turner, retired in July after many years with the city and Parks and Recreation Department. Director Matt Skehan took over Turner’s job and continues in his parks and recreation position.

The year of the pandemic also saw Delta Ambulance and the Waterville Fire Department enter into an agreement that uses a different format for delivering emergency services that seeks to increase fire department revenues and improve response time. The city also spent $55,000 to repair the plaza at Head of Falls near the Two Cent Bridge.

In the spring, work is scheduled to begin on the $11.2 million project to change the traffic pattern on Main and Front streets downtown from one-way to two-way, improve intersections and sidewalks and make the heart of the city more pedestrian and user-friendly.

COLBY INVESTMENTS

Colby students were sent home in March because of the pandemic and closed the campus to the public. The Chace Community Forum in Colby’s $25.5 million Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons downtown also was closed for public use by the City Council, Planning Board and other organizations.

Council meetings were held virtually at first and then meetings were held both virtually and in-person at the Mid-Day Cafe at Mid-Maine Technical Center at Waterville Senior High School before going entirely virtual again. Planning Board meetings also now are held via Zoom.

Colby students arrived back on campus early this year, in August, and left campus before Thanksgiving to continue their year-end studies and exams remotely.

Colby students welcome new arrivals to the campus on Friday, Aug. 21, moving in day. Students received a kit containing gear to counteract COVID-19, the keys to their rooms and a test to detect the virus spawned disease. Photo courtesy of Colby College and Ben Wheeler Photography

Colby construction projects downtown did not stop in 2020 and work continued throughout the year on the college’s $26 million Lockwood Hotel at the south end of Main Street which housed Colby students as a temporary measure during the pandemic. Work also continued on the former Waterville Hardware buildings across the street as part of a Colby project to develop the Collaborative Arts center there.

Work is set to start in 2021 on the $18-$20 million Paul J. Schupf Art Center being developed by Colby and Waterville Creates! next to Castonguay Square downtown. The building will be a destination center for art and film and will feature a glass front overlooking the square and Common Street.

On Colby’s Mayflower Hill campus, the $200 million Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center center was completed though college officials expressed regret that the public could not visit and use it right away because of the pandemic. Demolition started in 2020 on the old Alfond Athletic Center nearby on Campus Drive.

In September, the Planning Board approved plans for the $80 million, 74,000-square-foot Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts Center on the campus.

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