Good Neighbors?

Good Neighbors?

Relationship between Colby and the community marked by tensions, community service, mutual economic interests

By David McKay Wilson '76

Colby backed FirstPark, the 285-acre business and technology center in Oakland, investing $500,000 in a still-vacant office building that went up in 2005. The business park is a regional initiative in which 24 central Maine municipalities committed development funds and share in revenues from tenants like T-Mobile USA, which employs about 700 at its customer service center.

Adams was an initial member of a revitalized Waterville Development Corp., which is helping the city market a downtown 12-acre parcel on the Kennebec. Through its financial support for the operating costs of the WDC, Colby has indirectly assisted the project conceived by real estate developer Paul Boghossian '76, who wants to transform the vacant Hathaway factory buildings into a mixed-use complex with offices, artist lofts, student housing, and artisan shops.

"We are trying to play an active but reasonable role in economic development,— Adams said. "We are players. We see it both as being in our interest and our obligation.—

Despite Colby's involvement in the local development scene, its tax-exempt status rankles some residents, including psychologist Richard Staples, who moved to Waterville in 1978 and can see the college spires from his Johnson Heights home. Staples, whose office is located in the original Foss Hall on College Avenue, pays $5,000 in property taxes on a home that's valued at $200,000.

"If we get there and there is alcohol and they are under twenty-one, we can't ignore it. ... It's our responsibility to uphold the law."

John Morris
Waterville Police Chief

"Waterville has become an expensive place to live,— said Staples. "I don't see it as a major concern for Colby. It makes me wonder if I'm going to stay here or move to Oakland or Winslow, where taxes are lower.—

Maine's colleges are of two minds on property taxes. Bowdoin and the University of Maine make payments in lieu of taxes to their host communities. In 2007 Bowdoin will give Brunswick an annual $100,000 unrestricted gift while the University of Maine will give $625,000 to the town of Orono. Such payments provide general funding that the municipalities can use as they please.

Colby and Bates, meanwhile, make their community investments on a more deliberative basis, finding projects they deem worthy of support. In 2002 Colby decided to split the cost of a rescue truck, to pitch in for the protection it receives from the Waterville Fire Department. The last of five $20,000 payments will be made this year.

Colby also directs $60,000 year—in $15,000 grants—to the Waterville Opera House, Waterville Main Street Inc., the Maine Independent Film Festival, and the Central Maine Growth Council.

"When we see these opportunities, we invest in them,— said President Adams.

Waterville City Councilman Steven Aucoin for years has railed against the city's myriad tax-exempt institutions, which include its hospitals, churches, and colleges. But he has yet to find much support for his call for payments in lieu of taxes.

"I bridle at the unfairness,— Aucoin said. "I have people on fixed-income paying those people's way. It confounds me that I can't get a dialogue here on this issue.—

Colby, meanwhile, stresses its involvement beyond the property-tax issue. Its $120-million annual budget supports about 700 full- and part-time jobs, making it Waterville's second-largest employer. Its 1,800 students come to town with money to spend, as do their parents who frequent places like the Holiday Inn, where housekeeper Margery Grenier has worked since 1995. "The Colby people are polite and they are big tippers,— said Grenier, of Winslow. "It works well for us.—

Colby's students also bring their talents to town, both through volunteerism, and through work in civic engagement courses, which extend classroom boundaries into the greater Waterville community. About 300 Colby students volunteer through Colby Cares About Kids, mentoring youngsters in the Waterville schools, with students like Zach Ezor '10 going twice weekly to Albert S. Hall School on Pleasant Street.

For Ezor, volunteering is an opportunity to connect with fourth-grader Colby Robertson, a towheaded 10 year old. The student volunteer group also provided a community for Ezor when he arrived on campus. "It was a way to meet like-minded people,— he said. "It's nice to be around people who volunteer.—

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  • On March 7, 2009, Rich Garrett wrote:
    My mother lived in Waterville from 1923-1944. She graduated from Colby. Her Father worked at he LockWood Mill. My Aunt worked at the Hathaway Shirt factory for years,. The history was interesting and well written. I have a picture of the1940 Freshman Colby College Orientation Class if the author or anyoneelse would like a copy.