Bank offers to match splash pad donations

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BENNINGTON — A new park is preparing to make a splash in downtown Bennington.

A splash pad is planned to open next summer, and the community is determined to raise the necessary funds to supplement its construction. The Bank of Bennington has launched a $25,000 Community Match Challenge, pledging a 1:1 match up to $25,000 for all funds raised for the park by the end of September.

"The Bank of Bennington is committed to investing in projects that will have a meaningful impact on our community," said Bank of Bennington President Jim Brown. "Supporting this park project, and the work that The Grow Bennington Initiative is pursuing, further demonstrates our commitment to this community and to investing in Bennington's downtown."

A crowdfunding page for the project has been launched on Causevox.com, a fundraising site similar to GoFundMe. It has raised nearly $1,700 as of Friday morning.

The splash pad will be an artistic, landscaped addition at Merchant's Park at Main and Pleasant streets. The "splash pad plaza" will run through the park and be surrounded by a manicured lawn and a stone border. An art wall will separate parking space from the park.

The Grow Bennington Initiative, Catamount Connections, the Bennington Downtown Alliance, and the Town of Bennington have partnered to support and implement this park from the idea's inception to completion of construction. The Grow Bennington Initiative has committed to contributing $70,000 to the park.

A dream come true

Kayla Becker, Program Manager of Catamount Connections, was the catalyst of the splash park idea.

"The splash pad was a personal dream," Becker said.

She introduced the idea to the town, and got Community Development Director Zirwat Chowdhury involved. A $27,000 Promise Community Grant was given to kickstart the project, and now this state grant has increased the pledge of funds $68,000.

Promise Communities is a project under the Federal Early Learning Challenge Grant awarded to the state in 2014. The two Promise Communities are Pownal and "the Benningtons."

"When we applied to be a Promise Community, we had to hold community cafes," Becker explained. These cafes encourages community input for what would make the community better, and a common theme emerged.

Becker displayed a child's drawing of a park that included a water feature, mentioning that an astounding number of suggestions included a water park feature in Bennington.

"It was genuinely a large group of people," she said.

Lynn Green, chair of the Grow Bennington Initiative and owner of the Four Chimneys Inn, is working with Becker to make the park happen.

The Grow Bennington Initiative has brought other installations downtown, like tree lights and the decorative banners on lampposts.

Green emphasized that the pad will "certainly not be a Six Flags;" it will be an artistic, appealing addition.

The multi-use park will also have a "performance pavilion," an art wall, and a seating plaza. It will be located close to the Senior Center.

"A vibrant downtown is so critical to hiring and retaining employees," Green said.

Jeff Goldstone Architecture and MSK Engineering donated initial plans and the initial survey. Currently, they are working on finalizing plans that can be implemented in stages as the funds are raised.

Construction is slated to begin in October in order to keep the grant funding.

Fundraising

Causevox is set up similar to GoFundMe and includes extensive information about the park; even videos and pictures. Contributors can see who else has contributed, and can even set personal fundraising goals. The goal is to raise $62,000 by the end of September.

People can donate directly to the fund or set up their own page. While all the money goes to the same place, some may find it fun to have friendly competition to see who can raise the most through social media shares and word-of-mouth.

When people create a profile, they can write their own testimony as to why they want the park.

"This will be our big outreach to the community," Green said of the fundraising effort. "Ten dollars matters. Twenty five dollars matters."

An another effort to raise funds, the park will have named sponsorships. Approximately five elements of the park, including the pavilion, are "for sale" for major donations by individuals or businesses who would like to commemorate their business or family name in the park. Much of the fundraising will also be sought in the form of volunteer labor and materials from community businesses and trades.

While the park has historically been referred to as Merchant's Park because the now-defunct Merchant's Bank originally donated the land, the park naming rights will also be available as a sponsorship.

"There's a lot of power in a lot of people coming together," said Becker.

Timeline

October: Phase 1 construction, including initial excavation of interactive water feature areas and installation of equipment.

Late spring: Phase 2 construction will include "as many features" as possible with funds raised.

Early summer 2019: Park opening.

Christie Wisniewski can be reached at cwisniewski@benningtonbanner.com and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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