First info meeting on Rec Center project set

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BENNINGTON — The first information session to update the public about a pending renovation and addition project at the Bennington Recreation Center is scheduled for tonight from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Beth Wallace, Family and Community Partnership manager with the local Head Start program managed by United Counseling Service, said the Wednesday meetings are planned every other month during the pre-construction period and through construction.

A $3.5 million addition to the center on Gage Street is planned to house early childhood programming and services.

The project is envisioned as part of a two-part upgrade and expansion of the Rec Center building that could eventually include a gymnasium and indoor running track and other features.

The first phase, expected to go to construction in October, would be funded through grants to the local UCS Head Start program.

Any future construction would be funded through the town or other grants and fund-rasing efforts, according to the proposal.

"This will be a chance to get feedback from the community," Wallace said, and for staff members from the organizations involved to provide information and answer residents' questions.

The schedule for the so-called "Pulse" meetings — to gauge the pulse of the community — is posted on the town's website.

The meetings will be held at the Bennington Senior Center building at 124 Pleasant St.

"During Select Board meetings, some residents said they felt left out of the decisions," Wallace said, and the idea for regular project updates grew out of those discussions.

While construction is ongoing, she said, questions are expected about continued access to the Rec Center facilities, such as the swimming pool or the fitness room, and residents can learn those details or ask other questions during the updates.

"I am looking forward to the public being kept up-to-date on the planning for the UCS/HeadStart addition and to hearing community feedback," Select Board Vice Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins said in an email. "This is a truly exciting project that opens up new opportunities to our community. I particularly appreciate the forward-thinking that has gone into the planning thus far. This increases the likelihood of a successful Phase 2 to the project."

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Staff members from the Berkshire Family YMCA, which has entered into an interim agreement with the town to manage the Rec Center with an option to extend the contract afterward, also will attend the sessions to answer questions on center programming and related subjects.

"This is talking about the expansion and the Y [programming]," Shannon Barsotti, the town's Community Development director, said of the information and feedback sessions. "It's a way to keep people informed about the Y is doing and about the Rec Center and the expansion."

Having the meetings at the Senior Center also offers an opportunity to introduce that facility to town residents, the officials said.

Wallace said that residents also may contact her at 802-442-3686 or bwallace@ucsvt.org.

The project plan includes an addition along one side of the existing Rec Center to house early childhood classrooms and related services, as well as multi-use community spaces, and a new building main entrance and lobby with an elevator.

Twenty-five new parking spaces also will be created around the Rec Center and a sprinkler system will be added throughout the center.

The construction work is expected to be completed by October 2020.

The $3.5 million required for phase one is expected to come from federal grant programs to the UCS Head Start program, from funding designed to develop facilities for early childhood educational and other services for children and families.

Phase two work, if funding can be secured by the town, includes a proposed gymnasium and second-story running track addition, which would be funded by the town and/or through further grant awards or fund-raising efforts.

If a second phase addition is not constructed, there still will be some design overlap initially to facilitate a possible second project. The town also is considering a small renovation effort that would reduce space from the current Rec Center office to expand the fitness equipment section on the Gage Street side of the center.

Funding for that and for the proposed gymnasium addition would be the responsibility of the town.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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