Old Orchard Beach has a vision for Veterans Memorial Park
OLD ORCHARD BEACH – There is a distant view of the ocean from Veterans Memorial Park. It’s a relatively quiet space, with large expanses of lawns and colorful, fragrant plantings – and while beautiful, improvements for the park are in sight.
The Libby Memorial Library is nearby, as is the Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center. The Amtrak Downeaster platform brings the unmistakable sounds of train arrival and departure several times a day in the summer, and at a far end of the park sometimes children’s voices can be heard as they clamber over the playground equipment.
Benches in memory of those who have passed away can be found in some places.
But all is not up to par, and the Veterans Memorial Park Committee plans to apply for a $500,000 federal grant, administered by the Bureau of State Lands and Parks, to help fund the effort. .
Additionally, City Council approved $250,000 for a rejuvenation effort a few years ago, and Councilman Larry Mead told fellow councilors May 17 that if the state grant is approved, the committee du parc will seek additional municipal funds as well as research for community support.
Some areas that need fixing include the steep hill where a veteran’s monument currently stands, which is increasingly difficult for some veterans to manage, Mead said.
Other issues include the lack of a sidewalk along the library and park side of Staples Street; the park’s paths are made of stone dust and are eroding; and the tall lampposts that date back to when part of the park was a parking lot. The gazebo, made possible through the efforts of a Rotary Club initiative in 2005, is constructed of pressure-treated lumber and ready for replacement.
In the park on a sunny afternoon, where a group of people played on the nearby bocce court, Mead and Old Orchard Beach resident Holly Korda, who writes the grant on behalf of the park committee, discussed the view of improvements.
The committee envisions a Memory Knoll, reached by a curved, gently sloping path to where the monument now stands, which would be relocated. The mound would include a long granite bench, a place of reflection. Stainless steel signs engraved with words like “courage, honor and patriotism” would be installed.
New lights and accompanying underground utilities, landscaped pathways in the park, and a sidewalk along Staples Street are part of the plan.
“We have a very enthusiastic committee, and who can’t love this park,” Korda said, looking around in the sunshine.
A new gazebo, similar to the octagonal gazebo at Ocean Park, is being considered. The model is larger, more open, accessible – and would be the perfect place for a late afternoon music event.
Mead recently gave a presentation at the Saco Bay Rotary Club. “They’re excited,” he said, and he also plans to speak to veterans’ organizations in the city to get their support.
In total, Mead said he expects the project to cost around $1.5 million. The grant will be submitted before the June 30 deadline, and he said he expects it to be a few months before the committee knows if it has been awarded. If so, the money would be released in 2023; construction would begin sometime after.
He said the ever-popular park has become busier than ever during the pandemic.
“It got a lot of use,” Mead said.
“I’m a very enthusiastic supporter,” said Mike Dickinson, a committee member whose home is nearby, who was walking his dog. “I watch this park every day.”
Letters to the Editor, June 2