The Right Equation for Responsible Development: Spotlight on Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons

In multi-part series, exclusive to the Maine Real Estate Insider, we’ll provide an up-close look at the most notable commercial development projects of the past year that are helping to fuel Maine’s economy in terms of investment and job creation.  MEREDA is proud to recognize responsible development based upon criteria including environmental sustainability, economic impact, energy efficiency, difficulty of the development, uniqueness, social impact and job creation.

Please join with us in celebrating the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons in Waterville.

MEREDA:  Describe the building and project.

Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:  As part of a multi-million dollar downtown revitalization effort spearheaded by Colby College and in partnership with the City of Waterville, a four-block section is being redeveloped that will transform Main Street into a thriving destination for visitors, residents, and new businesses.

The signature piece of the master plan, and the first new construction project in downtown Waterville in decades, is the Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons, a five-story, 103,000-square foot, mixed-use building with 52 student apartments and retail space. Designed for 200 students, the building also includes four, two-bedroom faculty apartments and four studio apartments for staff members; a first-floor fitness center; a studio wellness center for yoga or meditation; a classroom on the second floor with full A/V capabilities; two, two-story glassed-in social lounges for recreation and study; a fifth-floor reading room; study nooks on each floor; and laundry facilities on the third and fourth floors.

On the ground floor of the building is a 3,800-SF glassed-in multi-purpose community space, the Chace Community Forum, that is used as meeting space for Colby, the Waterville City Council, non-profit organizations, and other community groups. The ground floor also contains Camden National Bank’s new prototype location and retail space for additional tenants.

MEREDA:  What was the impetus for this project?   Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:   The Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons was an integral part of a revitalization plan endorsed by Waterville city government. An inclusive visioning process engaged diverse participants and partners including representatives from local institutions, business owners, downtown residents and citizens throughout the city and beyond. A pillar in the revitalization plan was to attract more residents to the downtown. The Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons has contributed to that goal by housing 200 students in addition to faculty and staff in eight apartments.

MEREDA:  That sounds like quite a process.  How long were you in the planning stages before construction started?

Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:   The larger planning process, of which this project is an element, commenced in the spring of 2015. In the summer of 2015 stakeholder workshops were held to discuss initial thoughts and “blue sky” ideas, framework concepts, initial priorities for implementation, transportation and public priorities. The City also completed two other workshops related to the revitalization goals, both in 2015; the Spring St intersection study and a Waterfront Public Workshop. Another integral pillar in the revitalization plan was a transportation study of downtown. The City, Colby and the Maine DOT partnered on this study that commenced in January of 2016. The City of Waterville formally endorsed the revitalization plan in February of 2016. Throughout the spring and summer of 2016 downtown business and resident meetings were held to obtain public input. Due to the occupancy deadline of the fall 2018, Colby pursued a design-build methodology. After the issuance of a request for proposal to multiple firm and several months of diligence the project was awarded to the design-build team of Landry French Construction and Ayers Saint Gross. An agreement signed in April of 2017.

MEREDA:  Tell us about the most challenging aspect of getting this project completed. 

Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:   First, the discovery of unsuitable soils at the project site during the first week of site work presented an unforeseen challenge. The standard geotechnical studies were performed prior to design, the site was evaluated from its historical uses and additional borings were performed. Unfortunately, the borings were located just outside of areas that were found to be abandoned basements filled with rubble. The initial foundation design was based on geo-piers, however, the encountered fill was found to not be usable with that design. A decision had to be made week 1 to change the foundation design and completely excavate the project site to native soils and move to a standard spread footing/foundation design.

Second was the winter of 2017/18. This building envelope is predominantly brick masonry units. To maintain the schedule, the masonry contractor had to provide the project with the labor necessary, which averaged between 25-30 masons and tenders daily. There was period of several weeks where the outside temperatures did not rise above zero and temperatures in the -15 below range were not uncommon. Keeping a masonry crew of that size and under those weather conditions, without losing time, took a dedicated crew (and a healthy winter conditions budget!). No time was lost and the quality of the masonry installation was not compromised.

MEREDA:  Something unexpected you learned along the way was….

 Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:   The importance of regular, ongoing and honest communications with the public on the street. Waterville is a small city (population of 16,000) that had not experienced any downtown construction in over 50 years. The local community was intensely interested in this project, which became the center of conversation at the library, local lunch counter and pubs. Maintaining transparency and credibility was critically important.

MEREDA:  Now that it’s complete, what feature of the project do you think makes it the most notable? 

 Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons:   The new Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons is a noteworthy project because it’s part of a broader revitalization effort undertaken by Colby College, city leaders, local businesspeople and community organizations in downtown Waterville. The investment is already showing a payoff, both economically and socially.

The Alfond Main Street Commons, the first significant downtown building project undertaken in decades, was designed with civic engagement in mind, deepening the connection between Colby and the broader Waterville community. The social impact has been tremendous with 200 students who are now active in the community, partnering and volunteering with nonprofits and other community organizations.

The project has infused millions of dollars into the local economy, and also been the catalyst for additional economic activity and investment in downtown Waterville. Main Street is now a thriving destination for visitors, residents, and businesses.

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