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Hartford School Board and Selectboard Present $10 Million Plan to Restore Barwood Arena, Other Sports Facilities

White River Junction — A nearly $10 million plan to restore four major Hartford recreation and school facilities was revealed last night in a presentation that added a surprise, as-yet-unheard-of building to the mix.

The new building, a cinder-block fieldhouse to serve users of the pool at Hartford Memorial Middle School, will include two locker rooms, a large weight room and two dressing rooms. According to Lori Dickerson, a member of the Hartford School Board, the new building’s $1.55 million price tag would cost less than retrofitting the current, undersized building.

A joint committee made up of two members of both the School Board and Selectboard presented plans for the new building, along with proposed renovations of other facilities, at a meeting last night at the Bugbee Senior Center. The plans were met with praise from residents and board members, and the Selectboard voted for the committee to move forward in its planning.

“I’m really impressed with what your group has done,” said Selectwoman Sonia Knight, addressing the four-person committee after its presentation. “I want to see this done sooner rather than later.”

In addition to the new building, the plan calls for:

∎ Artificial turf to be installed at the Hartford High School football field and an oval track to be placed around it, which would cost a total of $800,000. Dickerson said Hartford is the only Division I school in the state without a track.

∎ A building-out of the Maxfield property on Route 5. The high school’s baseball diamond would be moved here to accommodate the other changes on campus, and the land would also be home to the school’s softball field, four little league diamonds, four fields for soccer and lacrosse, four tennis courts and two basketball courts. That would cost $4.1 million.

∎ Upgrades, in both cosmetics and infrastructure, to the Wendell A. Barwood Arena, which would run $2.5 million. Changes would include new wiring, four new locker rooms, new interior paint jobs and the ability to use the rink for shows or concerts during the 22 non-ice weeks.

∎ A fixing-up of the Hartford Middle School gym and cafeteria, long a source of consternation for students and parents. The $900,000 project would insulate the cafeteria from the sound coming from the gym above and enlarge the size of the cafeteria, among other changes.

The committee intends to seek a $8.85 million bond issue and use $1 million that the town retained from the sale of the Maxfield property to pay for the project, according to Selectboard Chairman Ken Parker, who also serves on the joint committee.

“Somebody said, ‘That’s real money,’ ” Parker said, eliciting a chuckle from the crowd. “It is.”

He said borrowing that amount of money would add 4.5 cents per $100 of valuation to residents’ tax rates. That equals about $90 extra in annual taxes on a $200,000 property.

Both the Selectboard and those who addressed it last night stressed that the project would be a boon for the town. For instance, committee estimates say an improved Barwood Arena could bring in $80,000 in additional revenue. A new track could be used by community members and students alike. Newer and better amenities could also attract tuition students.

Sheila Hastie, of White River Junction, who attended the meeting representing Friends of the Hartford Track, said that while taxes are always an issue — “You can’t not look at the money,” she said — this project is worth it.

The group is still waiting for its nonprofit status, she said, but it has about 60 potential grant applications lined up to help out with funds.

“I personally am excited about this,” said Selectboard Vice Chairman F.X. Flinn. “I see this as a win-win.”

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