City eyes VUES playground site

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Sept. 23 confirmed the city still has in hand a $21,000 Department of Buildings and General Services grant for a new toddler playground despite an error in its initial application.
A letter from the department told aldermen that state officials appreciated being updated about the mistake in a survey percentage of how many residents supported the playground, and it asked the city to keep state officials updated on the construction timing and possible move of the playground site.
Aldermen also on Tuesday said they would continue to speak with the Vergennes Union Elementary School board about a new site for the playground, one that straddles school and city property near city recreation facilities and school playing fields.
Click to see what else the council accomplished at the meeting
That decision followed a city recreation committee meeting that immediately preceded the council meeting in the Green Street fire station. The recreation committee voted to repeat its recommendation to put the playground on city-owned land between the pool and East Street.
Some neighbors have objected to that site, while other residents have questioned the project’s total cost of $42,000. Aldermen plan to pay for the city’s share by using the Water Tower Fund, which is fed by payments from cell phone firms that lease space on the city’s former water tower.
Aldermen also said at this point the playground would not be built until the spring no matter which site was selected, and that timetable would allow them to talk further with the VUES board.
Council members said a playground there would be more acceptable to neighbors and would mean parents with older children could keep an eye on both them during other activities and their toddlers at the playground.
“It would allow them to watch a preschooler and allow them to watch a game at the same time,” said Alderman Lowell Bertrand.
Alderman Renny Perry said a scaled-down effort on East Street remained possible, but that there were advantages to the new site.
“I think that’s a better location, and the neighborhood would appreciate it more,” Perry said.
Alderman and recreation committee head Joe Klopfenstein said after the meeting that the committee does not believe in scaling down what is a proposal for a playground with two pieces of equipment, a swing set and picnic tables. During the meeting, he said he did not oppose discussions with the VUES board.
“I am fully in support of the proposal and location where it is, but I would like to see what the school says,” Klopfenstein said.
City Manager Mel Hawley said he had met with the board once about the issue and was greeted with some questions, including uncertainty whether the school had a policy about letting its property being used during school hours.
Hawley said he did not hear the word no, but neither did the proposal draw applause.
“My takeaway from that meeting was what I didn’t hear,” Hawley said. “I did not hear anyone say, ‘That’s a great idea.’”
If the playground were to be installed partially on VUES property, it would be with a lease arrangement for the land with the city to assume all insurance cost and liability, Hawley said.
Given the time available to work out details, aldermen voted unanimously to look into it and asked Hawley to speak further with the VUES board.
Mayor Bill Benton said aldermen should be prepared for the VUES board to move in either direction.
“If the school says no, then we need to come back and make a decision,” Benton said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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