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Support Voiced For Hartford’s Big Plan

White River Junction — The warm reception given by residents to a pair of proposed bonds over the past several months continued last night, as they extolled the benefits of nearly $14 million worth of town infrastructure improvements.

The two articles that are slated to appear on the ballot at town meeting make up what some have referred to as the “Hartford Improvement Bonds.” One, for $4.9 million, would go toward gutting and renovating the town’s Municipal Building.

The other, for just less than $9 million, would be put into a multi-tiered project to upgrade town and school athletic and recreation facilities.

After hearing presentations on the two bonds — which would make Hartford “even more delightful,” said Selectboard Chairman Ken Parker — residents had their turn to speak. And, like at previous public meetings, they had only positive things to say.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” said Chris Sneddon, of Hartford, who agreed with Parker that the bonds would be an “investment” in the town’s long-term health.

Money from the athletic bond, if passed, would be funneled into six projects of varying costs. The most expensive would be $3.1 million allotted to build out the so-called Maxfield property, a town-owned, 65-acre parcel on Route 5. Sporting facilities that would be built on the parcel include four soccer fields, four tennis courts, two basketball courts and several little league, softball and baseball fields.

The high school’s current baseball field would be moved to the Maxfield parcel, which is about 4 miles away from its current location at the high school, in order to accommodate other elements of the project, such as a new track placed around the football field, which will get new artificial turf, and a small new fieldhouse on the school campus.

Parker recalled graduating from Hartford High School in 1965, as a member of the first graduating class that had spent a full year in the then- new school building, and hearing talk of installation of a track at the school. Nearly a half-century later, there is still no track, and Hartford is the only Division I school in Vermont without one, officials said yesterday.

“We’re going to do this at some point in time in this community,” Parker said. “That’s an absolute given.”

The other proposed projects include large-scale renovations to the Wendell A. Barwood Arena, at a cost of $2.5 million; the small fieldhouse, which will have new locker rooms and serve users of the pool at Hartford Memorial Middle School, at a cost of $1.6 million; renovations to the middle school’s gym and cafeteria, including enlarging the lunchroom and insulating the flow of sound between the two rooms, at $900,000; and the building of a new pump house and a children’s pool next to the Sherman Manning Pool, for $140,000.

If the bond passes by simple majority, it would add 4.5 cents to residents’ taxes per $100 of valuation. For a property assessed at $200,000, that would mean an additional $90 per year.

Over the course of last night’s 90-minute meeting at the Bugbee Senior Center, the main — if small — concern brought up by residents involved parking, specifically around the high school.

If larger-scale events are expected at the renovated Barwood Arena and accommodations are not made for parking, said Sneddon, who is the president of Friends of the Hartford Track, “that will become kind of an issue.”

“I would say a parking problem is a good problem to have, because it means the facilities are being used,” Parker said, adding that options for expanded parking would come into focus as the plans move forward.

But, overall, the possibility of attracting more people to Hartford — and improving the infrastructure for current residents — seemed to take precedence.

“I’m all for this project, because of the opportunity to bring it more students,” said Jeff Arnold, a member of the school board. “For that reason alone I think it would be worth voting for.”

The town would be responsible for $5.7 million of the bond, if voters pass it. The school would be responsible for $3.3 million.

After the discussion of the athletics bond, the $4.9 million bond for Municipal Building renovations breezed by. The bond, according to Michael McCrory, who presented it, would gut the building’s interior while retaining the outside structure. Renovations, he said, would make the town offices safer by bringing them up to code, and also provide additional room for meetings.

After noting the bond’s price tag, McCrory said it would add approximately $53 in annual taxes on a $200,000 property. In 2009, voters rejected a similar bond, for $4.7 million, to overhaul the building.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.