City officials, residents discuss toddler playground

VERGENNES — On Monday Vergennes residents will have a chance to learn more about and weigh in on a topic that has generated debate in the community — a $42,000 toddler playground proposed for a patch of lawn between the city pool and East Street.
The Vergennes City Council scheduled an informational meeting for 6:30 p.m. on Monday in the Vergennes Fire Department basement, an event that will follow a 6 p.m. hearing on a proposed update to the Vergennes City Plan.
June 27 recreation committee minutes at vergennes.org pin down the playground’s total $42,379 price. Funding for the park will come in part from a $21,000 grant.
Vergennes must pay the balance, but can do so with donations of labor and materials as well as funding. Although some residents have questioned, among other things, whether the playground would contribute to the need for higher taxes, Vergennes officials and members of the city’s recreation committee have said the city’s Watershed Recreation and Tower funds could be used to pay for the balance.
According to their July 23 meeting minutes, aldermen voted unanimously to hold Monday’s hearing rather than approve the recreation committee’s recommendation for the park. They made that decision after receiving two petitions opposing the park signed by 56 residents and listening to several of about 30 residents at the meeting speak.
Abutting neighbors said they had questions about the park’s “location and scope,” and a member of the city pool staff said she was concerned that older unsupervised children could be injured at the park and seek help from pool workers.
Other issues in addition to the question of funding, according to city officials, are whether another location, notably the park in the Otter Creek basin, might be preferable; how the park would be maintained; whether parking would be adequate; and whether the park was necessary at the East Street location given that in summer months and afternoons during the school year families could use nearby Vergennes Union Elementary School playground equipment.
Some also note that the VUES board has discussed the playground, but never taken an official position on it.
Last week, Mayor Bill Benton said aldermen wanted to make sure all were informed about the project and make sure the council is hearing from those who might favor the playground as well as oppose it.
“The city council needs to be able to hear all sides of the story … so we can judge what the majority of the people wants and what we can do to move it forward, or not if that’s what the case may be,” Benton said. “This is an opportunity for everybody.”
As proposed, the playground’s largest section, nearest East Street and screened by three trees, would include a boat-like play structure that would feature two slides, a climbing web and a tire swing.
Next to that and toward the pool there would be a play area with benches and a picnic table that would abut four parking spaces along an existing gravel access road from East Street to the pool. Next to the pool building would be a swing set and climbing equipment.
Monday’s meeting will begin with the recreation committee describing the proposal and the history of its development. Benton said he hopes for “a civil discussion of the pros and cons” to follow that presentation.
Aldermen will next look at their options of what, if anything, to forward to the Vergennes Development Review Board for consideration.
“Then the council will take it under advisement,” Benton said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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