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Vergennes eyes improving skate park

VERGENNES — Before sitting down for their regular meeting this past Tuesday, Vergennes City Council members visited the city skate park, near the city pool and tennis courts off East Street, and discussed its future and maintenance issues there with two Vergennes Union High School students and staff member Lee Shorey.
They then talked the park over at the meeting at the city fire station.
The council reached consensus that the park required maintenance, and agreed with the students that removing fencing and moving a tennis backboard that visually isolated the skate park would make the facility more welcoming.
“It will be more inviting for kids to use it. Right now they said there are a lot of kids who don’t want to use it because it’s an unfriendly place to be,” Mayor Renny Perry said on Wednesday.
Perry described the council as supportive of the park.
“I think there was a feeling, yes, we need to have it. And we need to have it more friendly and engaging for the kids in the community,” he said.
Council members at the meeting said other work needed to be done, primarily applying sealant to the park’s structures. Alderman David Austin agreed to work with City Manager Mel Hawley to obtain estimates for maintenance needs, fence removal, and the moving of the tennis backboard, which could be the most expensive item.
The council did not discuss how that work would be funded.
“We probably won’t get to that stage until we know what the cost will be,” Perry said.
The council did discuss a larger issue triggered by the skate park discussion — whether the city should re-establish a committee to oversee its recreation facilities and needs.
“It’s been through two mayors now talking about having a recreation committee restored,” Perry said. “What we do with the skate park could be a specific subcommittee of that committee.”
Austin said he would be happy to serve on a “committee that is in charge of those assets as a whole,” and pointed to the skate park’s deferred maintenance as a possible symptom of a larger problem.
“All of those assets (near the skate park) come under this umbrella,” Austin said. “Assets that are not looked after tend to deteriorate.”
In asking Austin to “take the lead” on the skate park Perry said that facility should not wait until the council agreed to form a new committee, but said the council should study soon whether to create a new recreation committee.
On May 22 the council also:
•  Extended the city’s service agreement with the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad for six months at the current $6.50 per capita charge. This coming January, aldermen expect to sign a new annual agreement with VARS at $8 per capita. Perry said on Wednesday that Vergennes, unlike the other communities VARS serves, had a July-to-June contract with the rescue service, and the sixth-month extension and new contract will align the city with the other towns on a January-to-December basis.
The higher fee is largely necessary, VARS officials told the council, because they have fewer volunteers and thus a larger payroll.
“That’s the biggest driver,” Perry said.
•  Heard from Hawley that Environmental Court had for a second time backed the Vergennes Development Review Board in an appeal by Mahaiwe LLC related to a fencing condition the DRB imposed for a residential development on Grist Mill Island. However, Hawley said, Mahaiwe principal David Shlansky has not ruled out a third appeal, this time to the Vermont Supreme Court. So far, Hawley said, Vergennes has spent almost $14,000 defending the work of the DRB, which Hawley praised.

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