Design consultant Axel Bishop presents a conceptual master plan to the Colchester community last week. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

About 20 residents gathered in a conference room at the town offices last Wednesday evening, a PowerPoint slide at the front of the room exclaiming, “Help Envision Bayside Park!”

Several months after the Colorado-based company GreenPlay, LLC presented a conceptual master plan for the town-owned Bayside-Hazelett property, officials announced they wanted help honing in on the proposed park’s details.

“What we’re asking today is [for you] to tell us if we’re on the right track with this stuff,” design consultant Axel Bishop said.

The conceptual plan is broken into two distinct sections, focusing on both the Bayside Park upgrade and proposed community center. The combined estimated budget for the phased project is approximately $39.2 million.

“I have seen the benefits of recreation in keeping people active, having all sorts of generations together gathering in one place,” town manager Dawn Francis told residents at the start of the May 31 meeting, noting the startling increase in overdoses, suicide attempts and mental health calls in Colchester over the past several years.

“It’s essential for our community’s health and safety to really try and promote those concepts in the future,” she continued.

Bishop opened with visualizations of a pedestrian underpass, designed to connect upper and lower Bayside Park currently split by the roadway.

The variations featured different arched shapes and building materials, including one option with two distinct passageways. Bishop also detailed plans for a climbing feature installed along the underpass walls, providing an additional use for the fixture.

The consultant also recommended the town drill a well and run a flowing creek through the park using groundwater, stopping at a cleansing area under the pedestrian tunnel before depositing back into the lake.

“People are magnetized to water, and they don’t need to swim in it,” Bishop said of the potential educational water play areas. “What they want to do is just touch it, play in it, splash each other.”

One resident present at the meeting questioned the consultant’s decision to create a manmade creek, or “concrete pond,” rather than focusing attention on the nearby beach and natural swimming area already provided by the bay.

A younger attendee wondered why the plans included funding for a swimming pool when the visitors could head to the lake instead.

Bishop said coming stages would focus more on beach access but maintained it was important to offer multiple recreation avenues for people with different interests and comfort levels.

Playground plans were varied, but all included natural elements like logs and rocks that Bishop said would encourage more imaginative play than the typical metal structures.

Other areas of discussion focused on a central gathering place or shelter, a kids’ bike park, hiking trails, a lake house, dog park and amphitheater, among other ideas.

One resident praised the suggested amenities but worried the lengthy list might be off-putting to folks concerned about their tax dollars.

“We understand that the cost associated with the development is not something we can write a check for immediately,” Colchester Parks and Recreation director Glen Cuttitta said.

He added that having a plan will prevent the town from installing items and then spending more taxpayer dollars to move them to a better location.

Officials said revenue could also come from other funding sources, including grants, a capital fundraising campaign and a public-private partnership. Everything will unfold on a long-term scale, Cuttitta added.

“I don’t ever think we built a park in one year or even five,” Bishop said, emphasizing a clear phasing process. “You set up a framework and then you take steps one at a time that leads you to an eventual goal … This is the first step of that process.”

Bishop said his team would be back in August with more refined sketches and plans based on the feedback from the meeting.