2015-01-02 / Front Page

Perkins Park plan pushes ahead

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Landscape architect Regina Leonard of Topsham unveils a new site design for the proposed Silas Perkins Park, located on a quarter-acre lot on Ocean Avenue, near the intersection with Green Street. The land was donated to the town by the Perkins family. 
(Duke Harrington photo) Landscape architect Regina Leonard of Topsham unveils a new site design for the proposed Silas Perkins Park, located on a quarter-acre lot on Ocean Avenue, near the intersection with Green Street. The land was donated to the town by the Perkins family. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNKPORT — Work on the newest public park in Kennebunkport will continue apace, following some initial push back from neighbors.

Silas Perkins Park is slated for a quarter acre lot on Ocean Avenue, near the intersection with Green Street. The parcel, donated to the town by the Perkins family in 1990, abuts the Arundel Yacht Club and has an open viewscape of the Kennebunk River. The plan is to make the space into a living memorial to Perkins.

Born on a clipper ship in 1880 and sometimes referred to in his day as “the people’s poet,” Perkins was a lifelong resident of Kennebunkport. He is perhaps best known for his poem, “The Common Road,” which was broadcast nationwide from the funeral train of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Excerpts from his works will grace a granite “landing” designed to serve as an entryway to the park.

“He was a very revered local poet,” said landscape architect Regina Leonard of Topsham. “We feel this park is a very fitting way to pay tribute to Silas Perkins in a way that will endure for generations.”

However, when the concept was first unveiled in 2013, issues were raised by members of the planning board, as well as by local residents.

“I think there was some resistance to some of the formal elements of the earlier plan, as well as to the walkway that was introduced,” said Leonard. “Given the size of the space, we decided it was better to leave the green space intact.”

At the most recent meeting of the board of selectmen, Leonard introduced what she called a “simplified plan” for the park. The new concept leaves the center of the area largely untouched, with landscaping largely confined to the edges, where ornamental and native shrubbery will be planted to frame what she called “seating niches.”

Seven movable seats will be included, which can be shifted about the space at the preference of park users, or to facilitate site maintenance by town crews. Creating so few seats for the park was a conscious decision, town officials say.

“Some of the public feedback we got was that they don’t want to see more benches or chairs,” said Selectman Sheila Matthews Bull.

To save money, public works employees will undertake much of the landscaping work needed to transform the vacant lot, said Leonard. That work will include removing an overgrown hedge of lilac and yews, as well as a pair of apple trees, while planting low profile rose and bearberry bushes. However, despite town assistance, the full cost of the site is still expected to top $40,000, Leonard said.

Much of that cost will got to mason, who will be needed to create the granite landing that will have Perkins’ poetry carved into it. That entryway, said Leonard, is meant to be both the park’s signature piece, as well as an invitation to the site.

“We wanted it to be a space that’s welcoming from the street, as opposed to someplace people walk by and don’t even know it’s there,” she said.

According to Town Manager Laurie Smith, there may be ways to reduce construction costs.

“We’ve been looking at ways to get some of the granite donated,” she said, noting that the owner of a local demolition project has offered the town whatever granite it wants from a foundation on the site.

Leonard said two additional elements may be phased in, to reduce initial outlays. Those include a sign, expected to cost upward of $3,000, and a handcrafted ship’s bell engraved with Perkins’ name, which could require paying to a local craftsman of as much as $14,000.

However, when it comes to the bell, that, too, is up for negotiation. Smith said it might be preferable to use an old Coast Guard bell, if one can be found, rather than a new, handmade one.

Even so, Leonard said the “base bid” is expected to ring in at $24,000, which will buy the landing, landscaping, seeding and lawn reconstruction, as well as the replacement of picnic tables already on the lot.

Unlike previous versions of the park, the current design does not need a mother-may-I from the planning board.

“This doesn’t trigger review because no impervious surfaces are within (shoreland zoning) setbacks,” said Leonard.

All that was needed for Leonard to begin work in earnest was the blessing of the board of selectmen, which was happy to give it.

“I think it’s a much better plan for us,” Chairman Allen Daggett told Leonard. “I guess you’ve got your marching orders.”

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