New signage, "splash pad" eyed for downtown

BENNINGTON — Officials hope to bring new wayfinding signage and a "splash pad" water playground to downtown.

Select Board members unanimously approved this week a grant resolution for the new signs. The town's community development office has already applied for a grant to support construction of a splash pad being eyed for Merchant's Park.

The new series of signs "are an opportunity for branding" and to advertise public sites, according to Michael McDonough, board member for the Bennington Downtown Alliance.

"They give the community an identity," McDonough, who is also chairman for both the Planning Commission and Historical Commission, told Select Board members on Monday night. "We'd show we're proud of our assets. And they allow people to recognize what those assets are."

McDonough said the new signs would be paid for with a grant from the state Downtown Transportation Fund and a local match by the Grow Bennington Initiative, a recently launched effort spearheaded by citizens, business owners and community leaders.

Four new signs would be placed at four entrances to the designated downtown district, McDonough said. A second set of signs relating to cultural attractions would direct visitors to the covered bridges and the Bennington Battle Monument, as well as announce that visitors are entering the National Register Historic District and planned Cultural Arts District. A third series would be outside of the downtown district and give an indication that travelers are on their way to downtown, he said. Another series would point to amenities such as restrooms, parking, bike racks, electric vehicle charging stations.

The project's total budget is about $50,000, McDonough said. The grant would cover 50 percent of the total cost with the rest coming from a local match — in this case, a donation from Grow Bennington and in-kind services by the town.

"We're working with local vendors and RJ Joly [with the Department of Public Works] to put together the costs and in-kind services from the town to meet requirements of the grant," he said.

The town is seeking a competitive grant to build a water play area known as a splash pad, according to Zirwat Chowdhury, community development director. She wrote in a March 5 memo to the Select Board that the town has applied for funding through the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA)/Disney "Meet me at the Park" Grant. Grant decisions will be announced by the NRPA in May.

Multiple community groups have approached the town about improving local options for outdoor recreation, Chowdhury wrote. Catamount Connections, a state-funded local group setting up a community space for families in the lower level of the Masonic Hall, identified a splash pad as a popular request in its community survey of families and caregivers, while Grow Bennington identified an "innovative downtown playground" as a way to attract more visitors. In addition, RiseVT, a collaborative consisting of the state Department of Health, Southern Vermont Health Care, the Bennington County Regional Commission and other partners, is building on a state outreach campaign to encourage physical activity as preventive health care.

Catamount Connections and Grow Bennington have committed $27,000 and $3,000, respectively, Chowdhury wrote.

The Bennington Downtown Alliance has eyed the town-owned Merchant's Park at Main and Pleasant Streets, which Merchant's Bank gifted to the town in 2014, for a playground. The Park at 336 on West Main Street is expected to be completed this summer. It's under the alliance's initiative called SPARC (Spaces, Parks, Art, Recreation, and Community), an interconnected trail of parks downtown.

Given that the alliance has preliminary designs for Merchant's Park, Chowdhury wrote, "the idea of a splash pad was also discussed with its Design Committee, which voiced support fro the splash pad idea (with the understanding that it would be consulted on matters of design and location)."

Select Board members were warm to the ideas on Monday.

The site for the splash pad is preliminary and "not set in stone," Planning Director Dan Monks told board members. There's been "strong support" for that site, he said, "but it doesn't fail if for some reason it can't be built there."

Grow Bennington's various efforts will be bolstered with funds that were announced on Tuesday. Bennington was awarded $5,500 to support the creation of a new playground in downtown. The grant winners were announced at a news conference with Gov. Phil Scott during the annual Downtown Day in Montpelier on Tuesday.

Two recent projects by the Grow Bennington Initiative were new pole banners and the wrapping of trees with thousands of tiny white lights, intended as steps toward making the downtown district more of a destination.

A total of $85,000 in grants were awarded to seven towns, with $70,500 from the National Life Group Foundation and the rest from the Vermont Community Foundation.

Ed Damon can be reached at, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.

This story was amended on March 20, 2018 to clarify a reference to funding for a planned water playground.


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