RUMFORD — With help from a few people who attended Saturday’s public forum, members of the Strathglass Park Preservation Society gained insight on how to proceed with planned improvements.
Two women volunteered to contact Rumford lawyers to help determine which areas the town owns and should be maintaining.
The 60-minute meeting was held in Rumford Public Library by society President Eddie Paterson, Secretary Karen Gallant, Treasurer Phil Blampied and member Len Greaney. Paterson and Gallant live in Strathglass, known locally as Rumford’s brick-park neighborhood.
Paterson and Blampied prefaced the forum by sharing a history of efforts to restore and preserve the park.
“We feel that it should be maintained and beautified to what it used to be and to how pristine it used to be,” Paterson said.
Entrepreneur Hugh J. Chisholm built the park in 1902 to house mostly Scottish immigrants coming to work in his paper mill. Paterson said the park is modeled after a park in Scotland. New York City architect Cass Gilbert designed 51 duplex houses, four single-family homes and nine apartment houses, all built of brick.
Paterson, who was born and raised in the park, said that because it is on the Route 2 corridor, it should be viewed as a statement community or a gem for Rumford and maintained as such.
“As people go through it, they can see the aesthetic beauty of the park and the architecture and recognize how the park was developed from the paper mill and how it was built and why it was built and why we’d like to maintain it as such,” he said.
One woman said she was interested in possibly buying or renting a building or unit but wanted more information before making such an investment.
Paterson said all of the properties are individually owned, but can be rented from a property management facility. Many units qualify for Section 8 housing, he said.
“They’re not all that expensive to buy, but they are expensive to maintain,” Paterson said.
He said the society has re-mortared part of the park wall and gate pillars and re-lit the area.
However, other common areas of the park need to be improved, along with the rest of the wall and more, he said.
“We’re hoping that people will continue to take care of their places and see some of the places like yours, Nancy (Eldridge), that are well-manicured and maintained and use that as a model of how they can take care of theirs,” Paterson said.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people who live in the park who rent and don’t really care about the upkeep, and there are absentee landlords who just want to get people in there to pay the rent and really don’t care to maintain it any better than enough just to get by.”
Blampied highlighted the work completed before revitalization efforts “were stopped dead” by selectmen.
Prior to that, he said, the board welcomed Blampied-led efforts to improve common areas and public space so long as the town didn’t have to fund the work. Then, he said, the composition of the board changed, political issues arose and a park resident “began lobbying the select board to stop all of our activities.”
Blampied said when he went before selectmen, expecting them to thank him and the society for moving ahead with improvements with money already raised, he was blindsided by selectmen who didn’t want any more work done for fear that the town would have to spend money to maintain revitalized properties.
Blampied said town officials additionally decided they weren’t sure whether the town owned any property in the park, and so denied permission to make further improvements.
“You expect to get patted on the back and get kicked in the shins and get caught up short,” he said. “That put an end to any further improvement of the public spaces in the town.”
But, he said, a change is coming in town leadership.
“As that rolls forward, we will be able to get a saner approach to this matter and once again be able to spend private money — not town money, not tax dollars — to repair some of the public spaces in the park,” Blampied said.
Adelaide Solomon-Jordan of Rumford advised the society to hire a lawyer well-versed in real estate law to research the matter and gather facts to substantiate ownership. She and Rumford resident Linda MacGregor volunteered to contact town lawyers to see if any would do pro bono work.
Additionally, Solomon-Jordan suggested getting Mountain Valley High School students involved in the research as a community work project for their college resumes.