Veterans propose minimal seating on Armistice Bridge
Belfast — Nearly a month after a group of concerned veterans and residents filled City Hall to oppose a preliminary proposal from Our Town Belfast to install seating and additional lighting on the Armistice Bridge, that same group has submitted their own plan for benches.
Tammy Lacher Scully, speaking on behalf of the Armistice Group, which is composed of veterans and residents seeking to preserve the footbridge, said the plan is to purchase eight precast concrete benches that would be placed within the widened portions of the bridge deck.
The benches the group would like to purchase are 14 inches wide, 16 inches long and 17 inches high. Lacher Scully said each bench costs a little less than $1,000, so the group would need about $8,000 to purchase the seating. The majority of that funding could come from a $5,000 allocation the City Council set aside for seating on the bridge, Lacher Scully said; any additional funding would be raised by the Armistice Group.
“This process has been a wake-up call for us,” Lacher Scully said. “We haven’t done enough to promote the bridge.”
The dispute over whether any changes should be made to the Armistice Bridge started when Our Town Belfast requested permission from the Council to submit a letter of intent seeking grant funding. As part of the letter, Our Town Belfast proposed installing seating and additional lighting on the bridge; however, no details were provided on exactly what the seating and lighting would look like, as the proposal was only a a possible concept at the time.
Veterans were primarily concerned with the fact that Our Town Belfast representatives mentioned that grant funding could allow the organization to expand the "Please, Be Seated" event that encourages local artists to design creative benches.
At the Nov. 20 meeting, residents and veterans asked that the bridge remain as it is, because it is a war memorial dedicated to the soldiers from Waldo County who died fighting in World War I.
During a previous interview with the Republican Journal, Our Town Executive Director Breanna Bebb stressed that the proposed seating on the bridge would not be an extension of the artistic benches scattered throughout the downtown. She said Our Town would ask for community input and make sure the benches on the bridge were appropriately designed to blend with the span.
Lacher Scully said the veterans and other residents are comfortable with allowing a minimal number of benches to installed, as long as the benches are made of materials that are consistent with the character of the bridge.
The bench design the Armistice Group chose, however, was not well received by Councilor Mike Hurley who was blunt in his assessment of the seating.
“I think the benches are cold and uncomfortable,” he said.
Hurley asked that the Armistice Group revisit their options and consider a more appealing and comfortable design, because he wouldn’t support the benches as outlined in the proposal.
During a telephone interview Thursday, Dec. 20, Lacher Scully said the group is not concerned with making the benches comfortable, because the Armistice Group does not want the footbridge to become a place where people congregate.
Councilor Mary Mortier asked if the group had looked at benches with backs, which could help address the issue of comfort. However, Lacher Scully said the benches with backs would be more expensive and there were concerns that a larger bench would obstruct the views of the water.
She also noted that the group wants the benches to take up as little space as possible, so as not to prevent people from being able to fish off the bridge.
While sympathetic to the Armistice Group's concerns, Councilor Roger Lee said he didn’t think it would be appropriate to make a decision that night in regard to the proposal, despite a request from Lacher Scully to do so.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Bebb asked the Council to delay any decision on bridge seating until her organization receives a response to its letter. Bebb said Our Town will find out if it is invited to submit a full application by Jan. 15. At that time, Bebb said, the community would be invited to participate in the design of any seating on the bridge.
Lacher Scully said there is not a specific time line in place to have the benches installed, after Mayor Walter Ash Jr. questioned when the work could begin. American Legion Post 43 Commander Tim Parker said the Armistice Group also is waiting for feedback from local organizations, such as the Historical Society, the Masons, the Shriners and the Chamber of Commerce, to receive further input on the proposal.
Lee’s desire to wait to rule on the proposal was echoed by Councilor Eric Sanders, who said he favors maintaining the character of the bride, while acknowledging that it would be premature to decide on any specific plan that evening.
No action was taken in regard to the Armistice Group's proposal.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.