For years Franklin officials struggled with what to do with land off Panther Way, just behind the police station and near the high school, where the town pool and bathhouse once were located.
“A whole generation learned to swim there with lessons from Miss Metcalf. She was legendary,” said Town Administrator Jeffrey D. Nutting. But with the pool long closed and filled, the property, in a prime spot in town, had become overgrown and useless.
Then about 18 months ago, town resident Adrianna Kelly walked into Nutting’s office with an idea for a park with outdoor sculptures, walking trails and benches that could be an area for creativity and recreation for the entire community.
Nutting loved the idea, and so did the Town Council, which allocated $70,000 to clear away brush, buy fencing, and create walking paths on the property.
Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School students have already designed and built a scale model of a wooden bridge, and, as soon as the weather permits, they will construct a full-size version over a stream that runs through the area.
The park, which will be fully accessible to people using wheelchairs, will have benches where the pool’s bathhouse once sat.
There will be parking available, and a walking path linking the property with the high school, Nutting said.
Local artist Ian Kabat, founder and president of the Franklin Art Center, has moved forward with Kelly’s original idea, and is lining up artists and sculptures for the site. The display is expected to be completed as early as this fall.
“For the past year we’ve been in the process of finding sculptures,” Kabat said.
There are four works ready for the park; one is a sculpture called “Wherethere in Five” by Massachusetts artist Andy Zimmermann that has digitized photographs mounted on sheets of welded aluminum, and formerly was on exhibit in New Jersey.
It has been sitting in Kabat’s yard in Franklin while waiting for installation in the new park.
The piece will be on loan to Franklin for five years, according to Kabat, who said his art center held a benefit event last summer to raise the $500 requested by Zimmermann as a fee for displaying his work.
The park will have six to 14 sculptures, which will be approved by town officials before they can be installed.
Kabat also had to work out the logistics of insurance, transportation, and other issues while finding sculptures for the site.
“Actually, a great selling point for artists worried about their work being displayed in a place with open access is that the police station is literally right next door,” Kabat said.
The works will be displayed in the park for varying lengths of time, from six months to several years, he said, with new pieces brought in periodically.
“It’ll have a mix of sculptures from very industrial to very organic,” Kabat said, noting that one artist is working on a sculpture using sticks, yarn, and wire that will hang from a tree.
Kabat is looking for a diversity of size, style, material, and subject for the sculptures, which initially will be the work of local artists.
Once the park is up and running, Kabat said, he hopes it will attract artists from other areas.
“We’ll see where it goes,” he said.
In addition to the contribution by Tri-County Tech students, local high school art students will have the opportunity to show their work, and the Franklin Art Center, at 5 Main St., is offering a class where people collectively build a piece, Kabat said. He said all ages are welcome to participate in the project.
Kabat said he is still looking for sculptures, and artists can get information about the project through his facility’s website, www.franklinartcenter.com, or by calling 508-887-2797.