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Hartford Selectboard Wants Cost For Quechee's ‘Pocket Parks’

Shown on July 23, 2014, the Hartford Selectboard is considering cutting back on the dollar amount needed to rehabilitate land near the Quechee village covered bridge into a pocket park. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Shown on July 23, 2014, the Hartford Selectboard is considering cutting back on the dollar amount needed to rehabilitate land near the Quechee village covered bridge into a pocket park. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

Quechee — Town officials want more information about how much it would cost Hartford to build two “pocket parks” on the north side of the Quechee Covered Bridge, a popular tourist spot overlooking the Ottauquechee River.

The Selectboard Tuesday night voted 5-1 to hire professionals to conduct engineering and design studies to come up with the price tag for transforming the spots, which were heavily damaged in Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. Together they total just over a half acre.

“That (area) is such an important part of the town,” said Selectman Chuck Wooster, adding the projects would beautify a landmark destination and possibly even bolster the grand list. “I think the need there is compelling, and as a board we need to commit to fixing it.”

Though the board decided to cost out the proposed parks, there is still no guarantee that the parcels will be remodeled.

Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg said the engineering and design studies, which are projected to cost between $60,000 and $75,000 and will be funded out of the town’s fiscal year 2014-15 operating budget, would be completed around December.

The Selectboard will then reconvene and decide how to proceed, likely in one of three ways — each hinging on the upcoming budget season.

The board might accept the figures and put the project out to bid, scale back the project, or halt the proposal altogether, said Selectboard Co-Chairman Alex DeFelice.

“We will see what we can afford,” said Ken Parker, the other co-chairman.

Preliminary sketches — the same ones that were presented to the public last fall — show the space west of the covered bridge, nearest Simon Pearce, encompassing terraces with sitting areas, trees and shrubbery, a walkway and viewing platform, while the space east of the bridge includes walkways, greenery, an over-look area and a parking lot.

Bob White, of White River Junction-based ORW Landscape Architects and Planners, presented the sketches Tuesday night to refresh board members about where the town was with the project.

The rough estimate to build the parks is $425,000, White said. He noted at the meeting that the project is more than just aesthetics, as the current hillside won’t “last through another flood.”

The engineering and design studies will turn up firmer estimates than the sketches, though actual costs won’t be determined until the town puts the project out to bid.

Selectwoman Sandra Mariotti asked White during the hour-long discussion if there was a scaled back version of the project that would be “less cumbersome” financially.

Though the project materials could be changed to shave some of the project costs, White said there isn’t much “wiggle room” to further scale back the project.

One cost-cutting measure would be to complete only one of the two parks, which was mentioned Tuesday night.

Selectman Dick Grassi — who cast the lone vote against the motion — said the price tag would be too much for the town to swallow.

“I can’t support spending that money to do that now without having seen the budget process,” said Grassi, adding that he would like to see a full list of town projects in the pipeline before spending funds on the parks.

Other board members also pointed out the high price tag, but balanced that with the importance of cleaning up the parcels, which are currently lined with concrete barriers and a chain-linked fence.

“We have got to do something,” Wooster said. “That is such an important part of the town. We need the Grand List to recover.”

The parcel nearest Simon Pearce is the former site of the Quechee Associates real estate building, which was razed in August 2013, while the other parcel is a parking lot. Both parcels went through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that is designed to remove structures damaged in natural disasters, limiting future risk. FEMA will ultimately need to approve the plans.

Wooster first made a motion directing town staff to solicit engineering and design studies, as well as put the projects out to bid. That motion failed in a 3-3 tie, though, with Parker, Wooster and DeFelice voting in favor and Grassi, Mariotti and Simon Dennis voting against. Matt Bucy wasn’t in attendance Tuesday night.

During the discussion, Parker asked White, of ORW, what kind of damage would result to the newly crafted parks if a storm similar to Irene were to strike.

White said the construction of the parks would be akin to that of a “riverbank reconstruction” and would be “pretty robust.”

“From the ground up, everything is vulnerable,” White said later on in the meeting. “The materials probably wouldn’t go anywhere, but would loosen up.”

That aside, board members agreed that obtaining figures was the next step in the process of deciding what to do with the parcels.

“We have got to do something that brings tourism and money (to town),” Wooster said. “If it starts selling houses, that alone is going to bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into our budget.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.