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Congress Square vote won't hinder major public art installation

A June 10 vote that could prohibit a proposed city sale of a portion of Congress Square for a hotel events center will not hamper an effort to install a significant piece of public art in the square, an arts committee leader said.5-23-14-congress-square
"No matter what there will be a significant piece of public art in Congress Square within the next few years," said Lin Lisberger, a sculptor who chairs the Portland Public Art Committee.
"I don't think anybody knows what's going to happen, depending on what happens with this vote, but we will put art in Congress Square, no matter what happens," Lisberger said in an interview. "It will be a significant piece. ... We're looking to fund raise to have a really exciting piece of art, since it's in the heart of the Arts District."
Opponents of a city proposal to sell a portion of Congress Square to the firm that renovated the former Eastland Park Hotel hope to persuade voters to retroactively overturn any sale of a portion of the Congress Square Park to developers.
RockBridge — the owners of the newly opened Westin Portland Harborview hotel next to the square (formerly the Eastland Park Hotel) — aim to use the acquired piece of the park to build a 9,400-square-foot events center off the hotel. The 4,800 square feet remaining of the plaza would be the subject of a redesign and visioning process by the city.
The Friends of Congress Square Park successfully placed a citizens' initiative on the Tuesday, June 10 ballot that, if approved by voters, will expand the protection of public park and open space throughout the city of Portland, but that also would apply to Congress Square Park to prevent the sale.
Lisberger said the ballot measure will not affect, either way, the installation of art.
At a May 21 meeting of the Portland Public Art Committee, Lisberger also reported that the National Endowment for the Arts may be tapped as a potential funding source for the piece of public art in Congress Square.
"The thought is if the whole plaza is being redesigned that the NEA might be sympathetic toward helping to fund that part of the redesign, in other words the place for the public art. But nobody knows, we're hoping we can go to the NEA," she explained after the meeting.
"We always figured we were going to be fund raising privately," Lisberger added, "so we have money that we put aside for a couple of years, we've made it very clear and the council accepted, that we wanted to have a down payment so to speak on a significant piece, so we'll fund raise however we can either through local businesses or the NEA or some other granting organization."
With an estimated $180,000 in the budget for public art installations, the committee also has heard concerns that taxpayers may recoil from a large city investment in the art. Outsized public funding could draw the most negative publicity to the project, Lisberger said.
"My contention is that we could have the world's most controversial sculpture, and if we paid 10 bucks for it, nobody would mind," Lisberger told the committee.
The concern was raised that people would be "up in arms" about a large city outlay, according to Lisberger, sharing feedback from a meeting about Congress Square.
The committee noted that one of the costliest art installations in the city was Tracing the Fore, which cost the city more than $135,000 from its installation in 2006 until its ultimate removal in 2011 due to public criticism and concerns over public safety.
Beyond these concerns, however, the Portland Public Art Committee is looking to next steps in bringing a major art installation to Congress Square, which straddles Congress and High streets in front of the Portland Museum of Art.
Caitlin Cameron, urban designer with the city planning division, said the next step is to refine the focus on this art installation. At the next meeting on this project, Cameron said, members will "talk about examples and ideas on what other places of similar size have done. Build up an archive of ideas."
And in a press release, the committee noted that for several years the committee has been planning to acquire and install a significant piece of public art in Congress Square, as imagined in the committee's annual plan. Now, with the ongoing efforts by KMDG design team and the Congress Square Redesign Study Group to fashion a new look at the intersection, the next step in its plan begins, the press release noted.
In keeping with the process outlined in the PPAC Guidelines for selecting Artwork and Artists, the Public Art Committee has established a selection panel from several interested parties to begin the public art initiative for this site, the press release explained.
The members of this panel are: Anne Buckwalter, neighborhood member, artist and communication manager at SPACE Gallery; Alison Hildreth and Pandora LaCasse, both Portland Public Art Committee members and artists; Jessica May, curator of contemporary art, Portland Museum of Art; Anthony Muench, Portland Public Art Committee and landscape architect; Scott Simons, AIA, principal of Scott Simons Architects; Frank Turek, president of Friends of Congress Square and artist/musician; Bruce Wennerstrom, general manager of the Westin Portland Harborview hotel; and KMDG/Utile, design consultants for Congress Square's redesign.
In August and September of 2013, the Portland Planning Division, working with members from the Congress Square Redesign Study Group and Friends of Congress Square Park, held a "visioning process" to explore the future vision of the intersection. The results from that process, along with the vision statement, and additional resources about Congress Square, can be found at http://www.portlandmaine.gov/1113/Congress-Square-Redesign.
For more about the Portland Public Art Committee, visit http://www.publicartportland.org.

Last Updated on Friday, 23 May 2014 01:16

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Council approves $220.9 million budget

The Portland City Council on Monday approved a roughly $221 million budget for the next fiscal year.
The upcoming year's budget was approved by a 7-2 vote, with councilors Cheryl Leeman and Jon Hinck voting in opposition due to concerns that the tax burden being placed on the city's residents is getting too high. The $220,985,836 million city operating budget will result in a tax rate of $9.89 with a tax levy of $75,754,243, and combined with the $101,592,669 school budget means the total tax rate for fiscal year 2015 will be $20 per $1,000 of valuation — a 3 percent increase from 2014.
Leeman said the leading complaint she hears from residents is that people are being overburdened by the costs of daily living increasing, and adding taxes on top of that is too much. She said homeowners are putting away $500 to $600 a month just to be able to pay their taxes and that is a significant amount for the city's residents, especially if they are on a fixed income.
Leeman said the city cannot sustain itself if residents are unable to pay their taxes or leave the city. She said if the city can't remain compatible with what people can afford, it will undo the things Portland is proud of.
"I just cannot support this," she said "... At some point we've got to say 'no,' and tonight's my night to do that."
Portland doesn't have the highest tax burden in the state, Hinck said, and he doesn't believe it's something the council should vie for.
Hinck said he doesn't see places in the budget where the city is being reckless with its money but there are areas where some costs can be contained, and it's important that an eye is kept on the burden being placed on residents. He said for the first time the city's mill rate is cresting $20.
"I don't think we should go there," he said.
Hinck and Leeman weren't alone in their opposition to the tax increase, as several residents voiced concern that spending is getting out of hand.
Peaks Island resident Mark Hall said the continuous spending increases are starting to tax people out of the city and is becoming too much for people to handle. He sad the city needs to get a handle on its spending and look at its operations like a business and not think there's an endless supply of money.
"We have to get a grip on this," he said. "It's just not fair to the taxpayers."
Every budget year is a struggle, said Councilor Jill Duson, and last year, the city dealt with significant challenges because of cuts levied at the state level. During the past five years, she said, the budget increase has been minimal, and in 2010 the increase was zero, it was 1 percent in 2011, 2 percent in 2012, 3.1 percent in both 2013 and 2014 and now 3 percent for 2015.
Duson said everyone on the council is a resident and taxpayer in Portland and are not out of touch with the concerns of residents, because they too face many of the same challenges.
"In the end, I think I'm responsible for voting yes on the budget," she said.
Councilor Nick Mavodones, who is also the chairman of the Finance Committee, said balancing what the city can afford and the services people want is always a challenge. He said the committee felt that a balance could be found to add some positions after having laid off more than 130 people several years ago to restore services, and that looking at a flat budget would significantly decrease services in the city.
Mayor Michael Brennan said the city is not the sole driver of the tax increase and a substantial increase was caused by forces in Augusta.
"Our governor and our Legislature gave us this increase," he said, through decreasing revenues and passing costs onto the municipalities.
Brennan said he agrees that increases felt by citizens should be minimized but the city has an obligation to invest in education, services and the future success of Portland.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 May 2014 01:43

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Conn. play experience acquaints Wells twins with renowned playwright

Twin 10-year-old boys who summer in Wells have just finished up the performance of a lifetime.
Aidan and Dermot McMillan featured in the world premiere of "The Shadow of the Hummingbird," written by and starring Athol Fugard, this past month at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn. The boys are fifth-graders at Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown. The McMillan twins spend their summers with their parents, Edward McKeon and Lucy McMillan, in Wells, not far from the Ogunquit Playhouse, site of many big theatrical hits over the years.5-20-14-TG-fugard-twins
"We ride our bikes by there a lot," Dermot said. "I do want to go. It looks like there are good plays there, but we have never been able to fit it in. We hope to this year."
The McMillans got their start in acting with the Hartford Stage Company in "A Christmas Carol" two years ago.
"Last year, we did it a second time. The director emailed us and told us about (the Fugard) play," Dermot said. They didn't know much about the South African playwright and his renowned works of anti-apartheid themes, "but now we do."
In the recent production, the boys took turns playing "Boba," Fugard's grandson character in the production.
"We alternated roles every day," Dermot said. "So it there was a matinee and evening performance, one of us would do both. We were each other's understudies, but we didn't stay backstage. If one person was sick (at home), the other one would go."
The boys kept a busy schedule, having to juggle the acting regimen with an all-city band performance. Dermot plays the clarinet, and Aidan plays the alto sax. They loved the experience working with a theater legend, and learned about his life by performing in the play.
"There were a lot of things about him, but he also took some other concepts which aren't about him," Dermot said. "He does have a 9-year-old grandson, and he hangs out with him a lot." The play is dedicated to Gavyn Fugard Scranton. Fugard's appearance in this play marks his return to the stage as an actor after an absence of 15 years.
The McMillans are identical twins. Aidan is one second older. They get along well, although they "sometimes argue about which TV shows to watch."
They described the acting work with Fugard as a great experience, and gave details on the acting routine.
"On a typical day, most rehearsals were four hours long," Aidan said. "We'd get there, and we'd work with an acting coach named Annie. We'd work with her with about an hour and a half to two hours. We also worked with a lady named Elizabeth. We worked with them on diction, movement and active listening."
The play is about a boy and his grandfather. The boy is playing hooky from doing his homework. He loves going to grandfather's house where his grandfather tells him stories and teaches him a lot of things, according to the twins.
"It's like a conversation with the grandfather and the child," Aidan said.
"We did miss a lot of school for rehearsals," Dermot said, but now they get to hang out with their friends more.
This summer, the boys plan to take a break for a little bit, and they are thinking about attending a camp for acting.
The McMillans were brought up on the theatrical life. Their grandmother, Jane McMillan, started an acting club in 1993 called The Vintage Players. When they were 3 years old, they sang "Whiskey or the Devil" in an Irish play with their grandmother.
McMillan "founded the Vintage Players specifically to present Dancing at Lughnasa. She saw the original production at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1991 and came home determined to stage it in Middletown," according to Broadway World. "Little by little over two years the play took shape, and the Vintage Players presented a staged reading of Dancing at Lughnasa in April 1994."
"That was why we did, so I could be in. Now I am too old. I'm directing it now," Jane said of the 20th anniversary production of the show. She's delighted that her grandsons are involved in the theater, and that they are taking their newfound fame in stride.
"I was very impressed," she said. "One of the critics said the performance 'soared' with Athol. They are very natural on stage. They don't seem like they are forcing anything. They enjoy it."
Long Wharf Theatre is noted for its strong educational component, including a feature called "Talk Back," that involves a show's cast connecting with the audience. The boys have spent some time on stage, answering questions from adults.
As for their future prospects, Jane said, "Their days are packed. My hope is that they will pursue their musical talents. To my mind, that is something that will last them their whole lives. Acting is a toss-up, a dicey proposition."
For the McMillan twins, the dice seem loaded in their favor.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 May 2014 01:50

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Deering Oaks Pond prepped for concrete, gravel bottom

In December 2010, Portland Public Services employees ventured into the mucky bed of Deering Oaks Pond and removed composted refuse, enough to fill two two-story houses. Some areas of the pond yielded 2-foot-deep composted material, leaves and debris from stormwater runoff, officials noted at the time.5-20-14-deering-file-free
The 2010 cleaning effort showed that machines would bog down in the mud of the manmade pond, to the point that crews had to lay down granite slabs to access areas of this popular Park Avenue attraction.
"That's when it became really clear that we needed a hardened bottom," said Troy Moon, environmental programs and open space manager for the city.
At that time, a federal grant for $1.2 million had been reserved and the city's matching funds had been placed in the 2011 Capital Improvement Plan budget. The money was reserved through the office of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, officials said at the time.
Fast forward to 2014. This year, the city received approval of the $611,111 federal grant, with a local match of $500,000 secured in a capital projects fund. This fall, city officials expect to contract out the work to install a pond bottom, in the form of concrete block mats and gravel. Portland will be provided with federal assistance in the amount of $611,111 along with a required local match of $500,000 (approved by the city of Portland as part of its FY2013 Capital Improvement Plan budget), according to an environmental assessment on the project.
On Wednesday, the Portland Historic Preservation Board will meet at 5 p.m. at City Hall, Room 209, and take up the pond improvement certificate of approval as part of its meeting agenda.
Deering Oaks Pond is a nationally registered historic landmark, so both Portland's Historic Preservation Department and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission are involved in the project's oversight.
"The pond is not identified as a habitat for endangered or threatened species," stated the Oct. 28, 2013 environmental assessment by David Chin, environmental engineer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The goal, according to the environmental assessment, is "to improve water quality by installing a new and more stable pond bottom that would allow more frequent and effective cleaning of the pond on an annual basis."

So this summer will be the last with a mud bottom to Deering Oaks Pond. The project calls for excavation and removal of about 14 inches of material from the pond bed and installation of the concrete block mats and a gravel surface.
"We want to be able to get it done this fall and take advantage of when the pond is drained," Moon said.
"The goal is to increase the quality of the water in the pond and make it easier to maintain," he said.
Moon said the city works closely with the Friends of Deering Oaks, and vowed "to keep that group involved."
The city will put the project out to bid in the coming months, he said.
David Senus, project manager with Woodard and Curran Inc., consultant on the project, said the delay in completing the pond-lining project is not unexpected.
"It's not uncommon for it to take a few years" to complete projects of this type with various funding sources and the requisite design and bidding cycle, Senus said.
Based on a "rough ratio" calculated from the plans, about 20 percent of the bottom will be concrete, Senus said, with the remainder having a gravel base. The goal is to provide enough solid base so heavy equipment can reach all parts of the pond for cleaning and maintenance.
"Really the end goal on this is to provide the ability for the city to maintain the pond bottom," Senus said.
The overall water quality should improve as trash, debris and leaf matter are removed, he said.
While final design plans still need to be completed, Senus said the expectation is that the public will scarcely notice the work after it's completed.
"It will be subtle, really the idea is the changes are below water. The spring season and the fall season every year they drain down the pond to take out the fountain or to put in the fountain," Senus explained. The new installations "will be under the cover of water," Senus said, and "the concrete panels will largely fade in over time, they will be covered with gravel."


EPA assessment of the Deering Oaks Pond project

"The Deering Oaks Pond, located in Deering Oaks Park in the City of Portland, Maine, is a 3.5-acre manmade pond/impoundment. Created in the late 1800s, the current source of water for the pond is from a combination of stormwater outfall pipes, stormwater runoff from the immediate surrounding areas, groundwater, and supplemental water from the Portland Water District's water distribution system. Any overflow from the pond enters the City of Portland's combined sewer system. The pond serves both aesthetic and recreational purposes in the park. The pond is utilized for public skating during the winter months. A majority of the pond's edge is fanned by stacked granite block or stone face cast-in-place retaining wall systems. The pond is drained twice a year for maintenance. The existing pond bottom in many areas is quite soft which hinders maintenance work. As a result, it is often difficult to remove sediment, trash, and deposited organic material. which compromises water quality. In addition, excess organic material helps to create and exacerbate algae blooms during the warm summer months. The City of Portland has proposed to improve water quality by installing a new and more stable pond bottom that would allow more frequent and effective cleaning of the pond on an annual basis. ... Improving water quality is the primary goal of this proposed project. Deering Oaks Pond experiences high algal blooms as a result of low dissolved oxygen levels and elevated temperatures. Over the years, the pond has received organic materials from combined sewer overflow discharges. waterfowl waste, decomposed leaves, and sediment from stormwater runoff. The decomposition of the organic material contributes to higher nitrogen and phosphorous levels, which in turn, contributes to the lower dissolved oxygen levels. ... Appropriate erosion and sedimentation control will be utilized to prevent sedimentation in the areas of the pond and in the pond outlets connected to the City of Portland Combined Sewer System. In addition, organic matter that is removed from the site during construction will be tested for contaminants and will be disposed of in accordance with all applicable local, state, and federal regulations and requirements." — Oct. 28, 2013 environmental assessment by David Chin, environmental engineer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 May 2014 01:49

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Coastal Humane Society raises $14,000 with plant sale

An expanded plant sale along Route 1 in Brunswick helped the Coastal Humane Society almost double what the animal shelter and adoption agency brought in last year, organizers reported.
Last Saturday and Sunday, Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick hosted its plant sale at the headquarters building on Route 1 leading toward Interstate 295. The shelter itself is located on nearby Range Road (www.coastalhumanesociety.org).5-20-14-plant-sale-1
Plant sale coordinator Sandy Reynolds said in the past the sale was held at the shelter, but the event outgrew that location. On Facebook, the agency reported that the plant sale raised over $14,000, nearly double what was brought in last year. The agency credited Reynolds "and the many other incredible volunteers who used their green thumbs to help our animals in a big way."
The plant sale was accompanied by raffles, a barbecue, a bake sale, a rummage sale and a silent auction.
Although last weekend marked a popular time for plant sales, with organizations such as the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Cumberland County Master Gardener Volunteers holding plant sales, a few opportunities remain for those looking for greenery.5-20-14-plant-sale-2
On Saturday, May 24 and Sunday, May 25, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay announced the annual plant sale at the 250-acre gardens. In addition, May 24 through 26, Memorial Day Weekend, are Maine Days at the Gardens, when all Maine residents receive free admission. For details, visit https://www.mainegardens.org/calendar/not-your-garden-variety-plant-sale.
On Saturday, May 24 and Sunday, May 25, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days, Friends of the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray will host the group's annual plant sale. No admission fee is required. On Monday, May 26, plants will continue to be sold, but will be set up inside the park at the Friends Snack Shack. For more about the group, visit http://www.wildlifeparkfriends.org.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 May 2014 01:49

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