Vergennes ice rink gets a makeover

VERGENNES RECREATION COMMITTEE Chairman Tim Cook, left, VUES physical education teacher Robyn Newton, and retired VUES music teacher Steve Sawyer all played roles in making recent major improvements to the city’s skating rink happen, and help keep the rink up and running.

It’s more about the collaborative effort in Vergennes. I feel like there’s a lot going on and people don’t really know.
— Tim Cook

VERGENNES — A Friday afternoon celebration at the newly upgraded Vergennes skating rink and basketball court will applaud the joint effort by volunteers and the city’s recreation committee, council members and public works department to improve the rink.
Recreation Committee Chairman Tim Cook said the successful project is typical of how things are getting done in Vergennes right now, often quietly behind the scenes.
“The real story is how the people of Vergennes have been showing up. The ice rink was years of fundraisers, the Fun Run, and a student-parent group that actually paid for it and organized it. And the city of Vergennes gave manpower,” Cook said. “It’s more about the collaborative effort in Vergennes. I feel like there’s a lot going on and people don’t really know.”
Many of the volunteers and Vergennes Union Elementary School students who have been enjoying the rink might show up at the park off East Street behind the school between 4 and 6 p.m. on Friday, when the recreation committee will celebrate what has been done by offering the school’s skate collection for public use, plus hot chocolate and sugar-on-snow.
The council agreed to form the recreation committee in late 2018 after citizen lobbying and a series of planning commission surveys and public meetings demonstrated demand for more recreation opportunities for residents of all ages.
Since then the committee has spearheaded what city officials agreed was the long overdue re-roofing of the city pool’s buildings this past summer; continued to work on a trail around Vergennes, which will link to mountain bike trails volunteers plan to install on a city park on Comfort Hill; and successfully lobbied the council to hire the city’s first recreation coordinator since 2006 (see related story).
This past June, with work on the pool building roofing already lined up, committee representatives told council members it was time to fix the deteriorating rink and hire a coordinator.
“(The rink) was one of our top priorities,” Cook said. “We had the roofs down at the park last spring, and the rink was up there pretty high, too.”
The volunteer effort came largely in fundraising for, buying, and helping install the new $5,500 of heavy-duty plastic tubing that surrounds the rink surface and membrane that retains water, which Cook said is roughly 160 feet by 65 feet, and then maintaining the ice.
The public works department helped install the rink, a process that was complicated because at one end the existing asphalt is no longer level. That meant volunteers, including Cook and VUES physical education teacher Robyn Newton, worked with city employees to create a supporting superstructure under the tubing and membrane.
And the council used on-budget recreation money to buy a $2,500 Bambini ice resurfacer, essentially a water tank that dribbles water out with an attached leveling drag mat, which hooks onto a garden tractor to be hauled across the ice. Two $700 hockey nets are also on the way.
Of the roughly two-dozen volunteers, Cook singled out a VUES student-parent group, Newton and recently retired VUES music teacher Steve Sawyer.
“Robyn, this is really her baby. She’s the one who has been fundraising for it, the one that’s down there every day,” Cook said. “And Steve Sawyer … he’s been down there volunteering his services. He’s been down there doing the little Bambini, texturing the ice.”
During Friday’s celebration, snowshoes will also be available to make use of other work done near the East Street recreation area. Volunteers have been sprucing up existing trails and adding new ones to the network of trails in the wooded area behind VUES known as the Outdoor Classroom.
“They’re heavily used,” Cook said. “Since there’s been snow on the ground I’ve been going down there and I’ve been coordinating with Boy Scouts to make new trails. And I’m just amazed every time I go down there it’s a well-packed trail.”
The rink effort follows the pool roofing work, which proved to be a bargain for the city when r.k.Miles agreed to provide roofing materials and all project labor was volunteered, leaving the city to spend about $200 on nails and new gutters, according to Cook.
The committee now hopes to make the recreation coordinator a permanent position, and also wants to upgrade the rink/basketball court further in the future.
Specifically, Cook said, its members want to regrade the rink site, repave its surface, and cover it with a pavilion similar to one in Schroon Lake, N.Y.
Deputy Mayor and committee member Lynn Jackson Donnelly is looking into grants, he said.
“We all fell in love with the idea, and that’s what we’re all moving towards,” Cook said.
In the meantime, Cook said the recreation committee would continue to rely on the kind of volunteerism he and Sawyer saw on Monday.
“He and I were down there shoveling yesterday, and random people came by and helped us shovel,” he said. “It was pretty nice.”

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