Colello gets the ball rolling on new rec center project

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Gary Colello has no doubt that if Bridgton builds a recreation center, it will be used to the fullest.

“When the town was evaluating the Town Hall on North High Street for renovations, it became clear that, though there is rich cultural history in this building, the building by itself does not meet the needs of the growing recreational programming needs,” Colello wrote in his report to the Bridgton Board of Selectmen. “Right now, we run 11 programs there and the facility is used seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. We expect ‘customer demand’ for programming to steadily increase as the student population at Stevens Brook (Elementary) continues to increase and from the increasing numbers of active adults.”

Colello unveiled a “very rough” sketch (his own drawing) of a proposed recreation center, which would include two basketball courts (two middle school sized courts that could convert into a full high school regulation playing surface), four pickleball courts, weight room, aerobic studio, rock wall, locker room and shower area, three-lane walking track, skate park and pool consisting of six to eight lanes, 25 yards.

The facility could also be outfitted with classroom space for outside programming such as community college, Headstart, adult ed and club meeting space; game room; storage (right now, some sports equipment is stored at Junior Harmon Field, where Colello said he is in constant battles with mice); kitchen; community garden; large meeting room which could be used for trade shows, conventions, conferences, craft fairs and town meetings; and emergency service space, which could be used as a shelter.

Selectmen liked the concept, and thanked Colello for developing a precise plan. He will now move the “concept” to the town’s Capital Improvement Committee, where members will see how it could be funded (possibly federal grant dollars) and determine a possible price tag.

“Your presentation is spot on,” Board Chairman Greg Watkins said. “Every point you made, I’ve spoken to someone who also brought it up.”

Selectman Paul Hoyt suggested that the town could pitch $330,000 for undesignated money toward the project — funds that were earmarked for a possible bus terminal on Nulty Street, which voters turned down at the polls.

Selectman Bob McHatton said Colello’s work is a “great beginning” and a “good foundation to start with.”

Need is there

While the Town Hall is historic and has some sentimental value amongst many residents, the building’s usefulness in terms of recreation has long passed.

“Right now, the Town Hall is insufficient and not functional for the full potential of the Recreation Department,” Colello said. “Space is limited and program development and additions are at a standstill.”

Colello pointed out that while the Rec Department and SAD 61 has a good working relationship in using Stevens Brook Elementary for rec programming, scheduling conflicts do arise with the school taking precedent.

Colello believes recreation is a key driver for economic development and growth. He sees a new rec center as a lure for families considering a move to Bridgton, as well as an attraction eyed by visitors and business prospects.

“A new rec center can build a strong sense of community,” Colello told selectmen Tuesday night. He added, “Families will relocate if they see a benefit to their children to stay engaged and active with community programming. Businesses will come to Bridgton if there are recreational attractions and events to help drive customers into town.”

Participation numbers have consistently increased over the past couple of years, from over 300 people in 2013 to over 550 in 2015.

“This is due to increased programs (one big hit is pickleball), activities and dedication from staff and volunteers who coach and help organize events and programs,” Colello said. “I believe this is a great ‘problem’ to have. We have people from ages five and up who want to be active. We have a community that wants to socialize with friends, play in a pickup game of basketball, pickleball, football and/or table tennis to get some cardiovascular training, come to a fitness program to better their health, and get their children involved in a program to stay active.”

In developing a rec center design, Colello hoped to consider needs of people of all ages and interests, which is why the facility could include a walking track, rock climbing and swimming pool.

“We have all of the right tools, we just need to find a way to utilize our resources and invest in something that can truly be great for the people and the Town of Bridgton,” he said. “We need a building that offers something for all ages.”

In other selectmen’s news:

  • By a 5-0 vote, selectmen approved Todd Perreault to serve as interim fire chief. Town Manager Robert Peabody said that while the town has very effective assistant fire chiefs (four of them), he feels someone needs to be in charge until a new chief is named.

Two individuals have emerged as finalists for the fire chief’s position. A second round of interviews has been completed, Peabody said, and background checks are underway. Peabody expects a new chief to be named in a month or two, “depending on the process.”

  • Messy is apparently a good formula to selling items at the town’s Transfer Station “Store.”

In a letter to selectmen, Karen Lewis suggested the town organize and clean up the store, which could result in better sales.

“There are many potentially reusable items in the dump store. The difficulty is that unusable items are mixed in with piles of wonderful items. There is not enough shelf space to properly show the usable items, nor is there a real grouping of products by subject,” she wrote. “In the spirit of recycling, it would be helpful to have an attendant ridding out as things are dropped off and placing usable items in their specified product space…Currently, items are in heaps on the floor or thrown across the shelves by patrons. Having an organized attendant could reduce this and make it easier to view what is there.” Lewis said she has seen the store “picked up” once. She feels the town could utilize individuals seeking community service opportunities as a means to organize the space, thus avoiding spending more money to hire someone.

She added, “I also believe these items should be free. It is often busy at the dump and discussing prices with the employees seems ridiculous when needy people could use what’s there and the products will also stay out of the dump.”

Lewis complimented transfer station employees, calling them “respectful and gracious.”

“I know they work hard,” she said.

In the 18 years he has overseen the “store,” Transfer Station Director Bob Fitzcharles found that sales figures actually increase if the space is “cluttered.” Patrons apparently enjoy the “thrill of the hunt.”

Selectman Bob McHatton concurred, saying “messiness adds to the excitement of shopping.” He noted that store sales reach $24 to $25,000 annually.

  • The board renewed Lakes Region ATV Club’s trail use agreement over town-owned property in the Sandy Creek area.
  • Because of the lack of rain, Bridgton Public Works Director Jim Kidder will be keeping a close eye on the weather over the next few weeks, intending to keep the gates closed for the time being at Highland Lake.
  • When asked to give an update on the Woods Pond bathhouse project, Peabody noted that reconstruction work there will commence soon. He noted that the town has received donations to aid the project. As far as legal action against the contractor, Peabody said the town’s attorney is reviewing the case.

Meanwhile, Peabody said plans for the Salmon Point bathhouse have been completed and will be reviewed by the town’s Building Committee. Peabody expects the project to go out to bid next week.

  • Seeing that a citizens’ petition to allow the Farmers Market to return to “green spaces” on Depot Street will be on the November ballot, Selectman Bob McHatton wanted to make clear his position on the matter.

He pointed out that the town spent $427,000 to upgrade the Depot Street stretch. Meanwhile, the town receives $25 from the Farmers Market to do business in that area. McHatton disputed previous comments by vendors that the Farmers Market was a major consideration in Depot Street’s reshaping. He simply said the town did not spend $427,000 to make $25 per year, and he would vote “no” on the Farmers Market referendum question. McHatton also pointed out that of the 17 vendors at the market, just “two or three” are from Bridgton.

On a similar note, Selectman Bernie King wondered whether the town could restrict where individuals attempt to collect signatures for a citizen’s petition. Recently, a local resident approached King about the subject after feeling “accosted” at the Transfer Station.

Peabody said selectmen could address the matter through policy, but officials decided to leave it up to the Transfer Station manager, who is responsible for maintaining safety and order at the facility.

Later, Selectman Bear Zaidman suggested that the town make revamping its website a top priority, thus being able to “get the word out” to townsfolk regarding board decisions and why those decisions were made. Zaidman also recommended that someone pen articles for the local paper, again explaining selectmen’s decisions.

  • Tuesday was Paul Hoyt’s last board meeting. He was thanked by Peabody and Watkins for his commitment and time working in the best interest of the town. Peabody noted that Hoyt always carried himself in a professional way, never leaving a meeting “grumbling” if a vote did not go his way.

Someone also appreciated Hoyt’s efforts, sending him a bouquet of flowers that had a card saying, “Thanks from one of your peeps.”

  • Selectmen will meet on Oct. 11 and Oct. 25.
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