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Arena Still In Limbo

Hartford — The Selectboard Tuesday night did not resolve the problem of how to close a gap — perhaps as much as $1 million — between the amount of money set aside for sweeping improvements to the Wendell A. Barwood Arena and bids that have come in for the project.

Board members agreed to postpone a decision until they have met with the School Board to discuss ways to reduce the cost of the project.

Meanwhile, the Selectboard on Tuesday did give the green light to a small but necessary piece of the project to get things moving forward. The board unanimously accepted a bid for underground utility work.

The low bid came in at just more than $413,000. Chairman Chuck Wooster said he and Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg met with school district representatives who agreed that the district will pay for half of the cost, a departure from the original plan.

Whichever way the arena renovation is sliced, however, there’s still a shortfall in funds to complete the project, and Selectboard members Tuesday night continued a debate about whether to scale back certain aspects of the project to keep it on budget, or return to the voters in March to request a supplemental bond issue.

At Town Meeting last March, voters approved a $9 million bond issue to be divided between the town and the school district for improvements to athletic facilities, including $2.5 million for the arena.

However, officials announced in November that the bids for an arena renovation that includes an addition on one wing of the building and updates to the other came in at $3.14 million, and $2.47 million for a design that has an addition on the west side only.

Combined with the necessary utility work and other associated costs, that meant the entire cost of the arena project would be over budget by as much as $1 million.

“If we want to reduce the cost of the project, we’re going to look at reducing the area,” project architect Dave Laurin told the board Tuesday. “These are no frills locker rooms, they’re concrete floors with a rubber mat over it ... so if we wanted to look at reducing costs, we would have to look at cutting square footage.”

Selectman Simon Dennis questioned whether there could be cost-savings by sharing locker rooms between a new field house and the arena by moving the proposed field house closer to the arena.

Laurin said that could be possible, but he would need to discuss the demands and requirements for locker rooms with the school district.

Selectman F. X. Flinn said the board members should be asking themselves, “How do we get this project done right?” and questioned whether cutting back on the project would jibe with “what we sold the voters.”

The entire slate of recreation projects “is turning out to be more of a $12 million set of projects as opposed to a $9 million set of projects,” he said. Because there was strong support for the bond last year, he said he believed voters would support a supplemental bond to get the project done as it was presented.

Selectman Alex DeFelice said he has heard from several people in town who would not support an additional bond, and that he wouldn’t support one.

“I think we can do a good job, I think we can complete the building ... and we can end up with the project that we were looking for, and both the school and the town can save some money,” he said. “I would have an awful hard time going back to the public and asking for X amount of dollars.”

Selectman Ken Parker, a longtime proponent of renovating the arena, agreed that finding ways to save on costs would not mean a renovation that would “diminish the intent” of what was promised to voters.

“(T)hat goal is still foremost and achievable,” he said.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.