2017-06-08 / Front Page

OOB’S Veterans Memorial Park slated for upgrades

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


Tina Kelly, left, and Mary Beth Robillard, co-chairmen of the Veterans Memorial Park in Old Orchard Beach. They plan to move the veterans memorial, pictured behind them, closer to the center of the park for easier access. A new pathway will be constructed around the hill along and new trees will be planted. The grade of the hill is too steep, they said, another reason to move the monument. (Grant McPherson photo) Tina Kelly, left, and Mary Beth Robillard, co-chairmen of the Veterans Memorial Park in Old Orchard Beach. They plan to move the veterans memorial, pictured behind them, closer to the center of the park for easier access. A new pathway will be constructed around the hill along and new trees will be planted. The grade of the hill is too steep, they said, another reason to move the monument. (Grant McPherson photo) OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The Old Orchard Beach Veterans Memorial Park Committee plans to make the park more handicap accessible and improve the overall landscape design. The committee hopes to start excavation by fall and have the final project completed within the next three years. The Old Orchard Beach Town Council is scheduled to approve a preliminary budget this week that includes funding for proposed improvements to Veterans Memorial Park.

The estimated cost of the project is $242,455. At a May 2 Town Council Budget Workshop, the Memorial Park Committee requested $60,000, the same recommendation made by the town finance committee and town manager. According to the meeting minutes the council acknowledged the good work being done by the committee.

Tina Kelly, Old Orchard Beach resident and co-chairman of the Veterans Memorial Park Committee, said the park is for the community and members seek suggestions on how the park can be most accessible when it comes to veterans. The current veteran’s memorial will be moved from atop a hill closer to flags in the park. Kelly said the handicap improvements are the first phase of changes and will be followed by new gardens and benches by next spring. She said the committee could do more but it needs more people to help.

“We welcome anyone with a background in horticulture, event planning, veterans’ affairs or grant writing,” Kelly said. “There are a lot of young retired people with talent in the community. We welcome anyone with ideas and creativity.”

Kelly said the committee wants to plant a memorial garden for each war the U.S. has been involved in. She said water lilies could be used for the Vietnam War and a rock garden in honor of Desert Storm, for example. Kelly said she hopes the gardens would allow family members and veterans to reflect on positive memories of their loved ones. Kelly said she hopes people will think of more than just The Pier when they consider Old Orchard Beach.

“We would like people to know who we are and how they can help,” Kelly said. “We’re pretty proud of (the park). It’s come a long way and we’re excited.”

Mary Beth Robillard is a fellow Old Orchard Beach resident and committee co-chairman. She and Kelly have been involved in park management together on and off throughout the past 10 years. They met when the park used to be a parking lot and small fenced in dog park.

Robillard said the committee meets at 6 p.m. the first Monday of every month at Old Orchard Beach High School. She said she understands it’s difficult for people to attend meetings in such a small community and hopes to update interested residents via email more often.

“I feel that we’ve accomplished so much from what it used to be,” Robillard said. “I’m very proud of what we have done for such a small group; it warms my heart that (the park) is as beautiful as it is right now.”

Robillard said anyone can help support the park by purchasing either a tree or bench through the committee. A plaque can be made in honor of a veteran and 100 percent of funds go toward maintaining the park. All committee members are volunteers.

The committee raised funds the Sunday before Memorial Day by selling paper bags for people to decorate and place a candle inside. Robillard said she was moved by the people who reflected as they traversed walkways lined with the bags.

Robillard said the park hosts concerts throughout summer. Events are listed on the town website, http:// oobmaine.com/Pages/index. Robillard said she enjoys seeing blankets and chairs spread across the park. She said there is a special permit for grilling during those events and hamburgers and hot dogs are served.

In addition, a flag raising ceremony is held in the park every day at 6 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day in honor of a particular veteran. Anyone can submit a request to have a veteran honored at a flag raising.

Robillard said it’s nice to see the park in use but the committee still needs help making its vision a reality.

“The town will help some,” she said, “but we need some big fundraising.”

Assistant Town Manager V. Louise Reid said if approved, funding for the park will come from a Capital Improvement Plan, funding typically reserved for large long term public works projects. Reid said the amount the council approves this year could change next year based on the budget and tax rates.

“The budget process doesn’t approve every single item at once,” Reid said. “The fact (the council) is not giving all (the funding) now does not mean they don’t support (the park).”

Kelly said the town of Old Orchard Beach has a unique opportunity as a small community of 9,000 year round residents that hosts 200,000 summer time visitors. She said the park has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Kelly said when things come alive in the summer there is a lot of community pride.

“Welcome to the crown jewel of Old Orchard Beach,” she said. “Something for everyone.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com.

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