New playing fields on tap at Manchester's town meeting

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MANCHESTER >> Voters at Saturday's annual Town Meeting will be asked to sign off on improvements at the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park.

If approved, two new athletic fields would be constructed on the area just north of the existing Applejack Field, according to Town Manager John O'Keefe. In addition to $75,000 from one of the town's reserve accounts, additional funding would come from private donors and contributions by at least two local non-profit organizations.

The project aims to increase safety and quality of life, O'Keefe said, noting the current open area is in use for some sports.

"I really wouldn't call it a field, but we started using it a couple years ago out of necessity," O'Keefe said Tuesday. "There's not a lot of topsoil and it's pretty rocky ... The whole space is pretty flat by Vermont standards, but it's still pitched. There's a five-foot difference in elevation between the southwest corner and the northeast corner, which is higher."

The project would create two new athletic fields right next to each other, each measuring about 125 yards long north to south and 75 yards east to west.

For the first fall playing season, the western field will hold varsity sports while junior varsity and youth leagues would use the eastern field.

"The next fall, it would switch," O'Keefe explained. That would better help the town with maintaining the fields and to change the wear patterns. That hasn't been possible in the past, he said, likening field maintenance to "trying to change tires on a moving car."

The junior varsity field would be striped yellow so it could also be used as two youth fields for Grades 4, 5 and 6, O'Keefe said. Each youth field would be about 75 yards by 50 yards and run east to west.

O'Keefe said officials are still making decisions on what features would be included in the fields, but that the total cost is expected to be between $350,000 and $400,000.

Assuming voters give their blessing, the construction would be paid for using $75,000 from the Capital Improvement Reserve Contingency (CIRC) fund, a move which O'Keefe said would not impact the tax rate.

The project also has a significant pledge from one Manchester resident. O'Keefe said resident Derry Taylor will contribute $125,000 to the project.

Other funding will come from Burr and Burton Academy, which has agreed to contribute $75,000; and both the Manchester Soccer Club and the Equinox Lacrosse Association will each contribute $2,000.

O'Keefe noted that, even with a blessing by Town Meeting and the existing contributions, additional funds will have to be raised. Both the soccer and lacrosse nonprofits will be actively involved in raising the funds to complete the project, he said.

O'Keefe noted the town fields have been used during soccer and lacrosse tournaments. That brings revenue to the town through rental fees, as well as business to local hotels, restaurants and stores.

O'Keefe said like many other Vermont towns, Manchester's population is becoming older. New recreational opportunities for youth is one way to counteract that trend.

"If you want to attract young people, you need to give them what they're looking for," he said.

The floor portion of Town Meeting will be held Saturday, Feb. 27 at 1 p.m. in the Manchester Elementary-Middle School Gymnasium at 80 Memorial Ave. Voting by Australian Ballot will be held Tuesday, March 1, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the town hall, 6039 Main St.

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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