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Additional funds OK'd for pedestrian improvements near Portland Head Light

The $90,000 appropriated last fall to improve pedestrian safety and movement around Portland Head Light won't be enough for the project.

The Town Council on Feb. 10, 2020 agreed to use $40,000 from unassigned funds to make up the difference in project cost, and for professional services related to the design, project administration, construction administration and site inspections.

The town received two bids for the project, both coming in just under 10 percent higher for labor and materials than budgeted, said Town Manager Matthew Sturgis. "But then we hadn't noticed that we overshot a little bit as well with the professional services that come along with the project," he said.

Plans are to replace worn-down grassy areas around the lighthouse tower with plantings and stone paving, add a bench for pedestrians, replace a wood timber in one area with granite curbing, and to install bollards and chains to control foot traffic and discourage walking on the lawn and vegetation. The site plan was approved by the Planning Board on Dec. 17.

Officials hope to complete the improvements this spring. The time constraint may have contributed to the low number of bids, but Sturgis said he believes the bigger factor is the robust building economy. He said he reached out to eight or 10 contractors and talked to some who chose not to bid. "I think mostly ... there are just so many jobs in their pipeline already, that helped them decide not to bid on it," Sturgis said.

Increasing construction costs are putting projects on hold throughout the state, Sturgis said. For example, he said two sidewalk projects at the southern end of the Town Center were extended for two years because bids coming in to the Portland Area Transportation System were 25- to 30-percent higher than expected.

Councilors voted 5-0 to approve the transfer of unassigned funds to the Portland Head Light fund, which funded the initial appropriation in October.

Both the unassigned fund balance and the Portland Head Light fund are in good shape, said Finance Committee Chairman Jamie Garvin, but unassigned funds were tapped because of the significant contribution the Portland Head Light fund made to last year's parking-lot improvements [news article]. "We're looking to try to grow that back to more of a healthy balance as we get further, for future projects," Sturgis said.