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Brattleboro proposes $4.3 million in recreation and park upgrades

Student hockey players practice at Brattleboro’s Living Memorial Park skating rink, whose roof and refrigeration system are proposed for upgrades. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

BRATTLEBORO — Municipal leaders are considering $4.3 million in facility upgrades at the town’s main recreational area, Living Memorial Park.

Sale of a potential 20-year bond would pay for a new skating rink roof and refrigeration system, field lighting, a maintenance building and additional parking at the 53-acre property, according to a plan the town Selectboard may seek approval for as early as March.

“This is a huge generational improvement that’s being proposed,” board chair Ian Goodnow said at a meeting Tuesday night. “Obviously, this is something we’re going to discuss in the budget process.”

The idea for the municipal park sprouted in 1944, when residents suggested the purchase of World War II bonds that, once matured, could be used to fund a “Living Memorial” recreational area to honor veterans.

A decade later, the town bought the old Clark Farm on Guilford Street for $33,875. Since then, local leaders have added a ski lift, outdoor swimming pool, indoor skating rink, playground and picnic area, baseball fields, and basketball, tennis and volleyball courts.

“For generations, all ages have been going to Living Memorial Park to create memories, build new friendships and learn lifelong skills,” Recreation and Parks Director Carol Lolatte told the Selectboard.

But several of its facilities are aging and need upgrading, she said.

The town wants to improve the skating rink with a new $1,975,068 roof and $1,528,642 refrigeration system, replace the park’s maintenance building for $724,269, and invest $75,000 in ballfield lighting and $40,000 for more parking.

Local leaders are considering how to pay for the resulting $4,342,979 package. They’re mulling a 20-year bond that could require nearly $2 million in interest costs over two decades, as well as suggestions to weigh the use of public and private grants, fundraising and federal American Rescue Plan Act money.

Local leaders unveiled the plan at the same meeting where they revealed a draft town government budget for the 2024 fiscal year, set for public consideration in March.

The $21.4 million proposal, which would maintain existing services, is up 7.1% from current spending but would tap a fund balance and projected hikes in rooms, meals and sales tax revenue to limit any property tax increase to 3.5%.

About 60% of the budget would go toward employee salaries and benefits, with the town considering a bump in its annual cost-of-living adjustment from about 2% to 5%.

The payroll cost “represents the single largest driver behind the increase in taxes,” interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said in a budget statement.

Big-ticket items include $515,000 for a state-required 10% match to replace the Melrose Bridge on Route 9 and $400,000 for roadside repairs after a recent washout on Williams Street.

The budget also calls for creating a $45,536 full-time communications coordinator position to maintain a new municipal website that would debut next summer.

“Social media has helped set new expectations for how and how often we can keep the public informed,” Moreland said in his budget statement. “This position should have the talent and skill to ‘transform’ boring press releases into more engaging graphics that awaken the public’s desire to be engaged with their community and more completely satisfy their need to stay informed.”

The Selectboard is scheduled to dissect and discuss the budget and recreation and park upgrades at its Tuesday meetings through January.

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