RUMFORD — The Rumford High School Class of 1978 is looking to kick off a fundraising effort to plant trees on Congress Street to commemorate deceased classmates.

During the summer of 2013, the town removed 15 trees from the sidewalks on lower Congress Street.

The Board of Selectmen said during their Oct. 19, 2012, meeting that the trees, first planted in 1981, were causing root damage to the sidewalks and sewers, and that if the trees were to remain, they would continue to cause problems.

At their meeting Thursday evening, resident Candice Casey, who is a member of the Class of 1978, presented a letter drafted by class President Don Roberts that laid out a proposal to raise money to plant trees at 17 sites on Congress Street.

“Last fall, a number of us that have relocated across the county became aware that the trees on Congress Street had been unfortunately, yet necessarily, removed,” Roberts wrote. “We saw an opportunity to give back to our hometown.”

Roberts wrote that graduates from the Class of 1978 have “started to collect funds in anticipation of commemorating a tree to the classmates that we have lost.”

The plan, according to Roberts, would be for members of the class and any other residents interested in the project to “raise between $200 and $250 per dedicated tree.”

Roberts said he has heard from residents who would be interested in supporting the project for reasons other than commemorating deceased classmates.

Casey said she was hoping to receive “some kind of assurance” from the Board of Selectmen that they wished to move forward with the proposal because there are residents waiting to hear what the next step would be.

Selectman Jeff Sterling said he thought the proposal was “a very generous idea,” but that the Board of Selectmen still had to have “a long discussion” about what their plans are for the sidewalks on Congress Street.

Sterling explained that in 2013, the town had discussed scheduling construction to fix the sidewalks on Congress Street, adding that former Town Manager Carlo Puiia was forced to postpone it due to budget concerns.

“Carlo held back on a lot of those projects due to the budget process last year,” Sterling said. “I know he was a little reluctant to spend that money. I think before we decide whether to put trees back on Congress Street, we need to decide what our plans are, in terms of construction, as we head further into the winter and the spring.”

However, Sterling told Casey that he would “hate to go another year without trees on Congress Street.

“At first, I didn’t think there would be much of a difference,” Sterling said, “but when I saw the street without those trees for the first time, there was a noticeable difference and not in a good way.”

Selectmen agreed to continue discussion on whether they will pursue construction on the Congress Street sidewalks, and will revisit the proposal later.

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