Ferrisburgh eyeing community rec center

A group of residents and Ferrisburgh Central School officials is working to create both a year-round town recreation center on school property and a bicycle and pedestrian path that could link neighborhoods to the school.
Tim Bicknell, an FCS board member and a physician with a practice in Vergennes, has helped lead an effort that has included three meetings to discuss design and funding ideas.
Bicknell said a kickoff gathering three months ago drew 30 people, and that a number of residents are continuing to work hard to move the idea forward, even if it remains in an early phase.
“This is a slow, organic sort of thing, but it is beginning to pick up steam,” Bicknell said.
The potential site of the recreation facility once was covered by the town highway department’s sand pile, now moved. FCS officials had wanted to build an outdoor skating rink, and a recent $932,000 physical education grant earned by Addison Central Supervisory Union included $2,000 for that purpose.
FCS Principal JoAnn Taft-Blakely said she and FCS physical education teacher Annie Wilson and board members, including Bicknell, started talking about more ideas for the site. Eventually, someone brought up the idea for a roof over the rink to allow for more flexible, year-round uses.
Taft-Blakely said school officials support the greater opportunities both for students, who could use the center for physical education classes, and town residents.
“That’s the part where it got bigger,” she said. “We’ve been talking about getting a skating rink, and it’s becoming a little bigger than that.”
Bicknell said what is now envisioned is a building, maybe 100 feet by 100 feet, with a walking track running around a central rink. In the summer, the rink space could be converted to tennis and basketball. The walking track could be used year-round in bad weather to allow residents, especially the elderly, the chance to exercise, and allow many to meet year-round to socialize as well as sweat.
“It is something that will be open to everybody … Hopefully it will evolve into a community rec center,” Bicknell said.
The group currently plans to have the southern end of the structure, which would face Little Chicago Road, remain open to allow easy access and to provide security by exposing the interior to the street. Motion-detection lighting could add more security, Bicknell said.
Among the next steps is determining cost.
“My goal in the next couple weeks is to meet with a couple contractors and talk about what this might entail,” Bicknell said.
The group does not intend to add to the municipal or school tax rates to pay for the project, but rather to seek federal or private funding sources.
“We’re looking at different sources of funding right now,” Bicknell said. “We don’t want to go to the town and ask for it to be taxpayer funded … It should be clear this will have nothing to do with the school budget.”
The second focus is a path that would run north from the school, at least through homes planned on the adjacent Atkins Farm property to the more fully built-out Round Barn Farm development a few hundred yards away. Bicknell said ideally a packed-gravel path could reach a little more than a mile north to homes along Greenbush Road.
Currently about 20 children from the Round Barn Farm area could simply walk to school instead of take buses or be driven by their families, and Bicknell said a longer path could offer residents another exercise opportunity and better link northern Ferrisburgh to the village area by bicycle, without the hassle of Route 7 travel.
“Hopefully this would promote more children walking or biking to school and would allow for safer travel for the greater biking community,” he said.
Federal money might pay for landscape screening as well as path construction, said Bicknell, who also plans to approach land- and homeowners about the benefits of a bike path to them as well as the town.
“When people are selling their hoses, that’s one thing people always mention, close proximity to a bike path,” he said. “It generally increases property values.”
The Ferrisburgh Planning Commission also has heard of the project from the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, which will help the group obtain funding. A letter to Bicknell signed by commission chairman Bob Beach stated, “The Planning Commission is really supportive of this program and wishes to pass along its endorsement to you and your committee.”
Bicknell said many residents have also told him they are at least curious about the project, and he described the interest level as high. He would welcome any questions — and the group would welcome anyone who would like to attend the next meeting, at 6:30 p.m. on June 7 at FCS, to give their input on project design and funding.
“We want everyone who wants to be involved to be involved. and the committee is open to anybody,” Bicknell said. “It truly should be a community project.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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