SWANTON VILLAGE — The Swanton Recreation Dept. may be bringing a community rink to the village green.
The rink is a certainty — the maybe is where it will be placed. Betsy Fournier, of the rec department, advocated at Monday’s village board meeting to put it in the park.
“We just feel like it would be more utilized in the village center,” Fournier said, at that meeting. Placing the rink in the park would give it more visual exposure, but Fournier said doing so might also send skaters into local shops.
The village green hosted skating rinks in the past, and the Swanton rec department regularly puts up its own 90- by 90-foot rink. But it’s been some time since skaters could do so right there in the park.
Adam Paxman, one of the village’s three trustees, asked about the possibility of placing the rink in Marble Mill Park. Fournier said yes. But that means less visual exposure, a little more distance to downtown shops and less level ground.
Past rinks in the park were placed between the Lady Liberty statue and the historic bandstand, according to Village Manager Reg Beliveau Jr. Fournier suggested putting the rink behind the LED announcement sign, near the First Street intersection.
Swanton rec representatives weren’t asking the board for much. Fournier said the rec department has all the necessary materials, but could use some labor help from the village: a work crew to assemble the rink and the village fire department to flood it.
The village board was happy to oblige. Chris Leach, another trustee, immediately said he was in favor of helping the rec department make this happen “as long as the fire department feels they can do their part, and the street department can do their part.”
Leach made a motion contingent on that, authorizing Beliveau to set the project in motion with public works and fire department approval. Paxman seconded the motion, and it passed without dissent.
Beliveau said he’ll “do some legwork” and research with those departments to figure out where the rink is best placed.
Meanwhile, Village President Neal Speer undertook a project of his own.
“Have to go look for some hockey skates,” Speer said.
Later in the meeting, community economic development coordinator Elisabeth Nance talked about a different kind of downtown sprucing: grant funding to finally give Merchants Row a long-awaited facelift.
Improving traffic patterns near Merchants Row has been a topic of discussion for years. Nance pointed to the village’s downtown revitalization plan, designed in 2001, which identified Merchants Row as an area in need of improvement.
Two well-trafficked intersections are issues, Grand Avenue’s respective intersections with First and Canada streets, as well as the hill, just past Merchants Row, leading down to Depot Street, a source of constant truck traffic and reduced visibility. Vermont Route 78 runs up that hill and down First Street.
“There’s a lot of interest in doing something,” Nance said. “We know that something needs to be done… Let’s just move forward with it.”
To move forward, Nance suggested the village apply for the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans)’s Bike and Pedestrian program, which utilizes federal funds to pay for traffic safety improvements. Nance also spurred the town selectboard in applying for the program to fund a sidewalk from First Street to Missisquoi Valley Union (MVU) school, another long-discussed project.
The fact that both the town and village are applying for the program’s funding will not affect either entity’s application. They won’t be competing against each other. Nance said she confirmed that with VTrans officials.
Although a skating rink may relatively suddenly appear in the village park, the possible Merchants Row improvements are a ways out — the grant application itself isn’t even due until June 2019. But Nance gave the board notice nearly seven months in advance for the sake of budgeting, which the board is about to undertake.
The application requires a 20 percent match. Nance estimated a study of possible improvements might cost $10,000-15,000, given the roughly $24,000 cost of a similar study concerning the MVU sidewalk. With that in mind, Nance estimated the village’s matching cost might come to $3,000.
If VTrans approves the village’s application, work on the project won’t commence until 2020. That’s when the matching funds would be due. But Nance argued for starting to raise those funds now, not just for this project’s security but in case other grant funding opportunities arise: “having a little pot of money, so you’re not scrambling to come up with it, you’ve already got a plan.”
She recommended the board aim for $5,000, covering the Merchants Row study’s match and leaving extra for surprise grant options — “just something that will be there if you need it, instead of trying to find it when a grant comes up.”
The discussion moved on from there to other topics soon to be reported by the Messenger. The village board took no action as of yet.
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