Hinesburg Selectboard meeting includes discussion of need for recreation fields

Monday night’s Hinesburg Selectboard meeting included a continuation of the discussion regarding how to use the funds from Vermont Gas Systems Inc. paid for drilling in Geprags Park.

The Feb. 20 Selectboard meeting had included a motion by Selectboard member Tom Ayer, later tabled for discussion at Town Meeting, to use $190,000 of the $250,000 payment to complete the Bissonette Recreation Fields. The fields are currently being built, and various fundraisers have contributed to their construction. At the Feb. 20 meeting, audience members and some Selectboard members expressed concern with the speed with which the process of using the money for the fields was moving, and spoke up against using the payment without further public discussion.

At this Monday’s meeting, different perspectives were presented. Several parents in the audience rose to speak in favor of using the Geprags money to complete the Bissonette Recreation Fields.

Hinesburg School Board Chair Keith Roberts noted that the fields are important to kids in town; even as he spoke, his son was in Essex playing soccer. Robert noted that he saw no relationship between the source of the funds and how they should be used, noting that the town can use the money in whatever way is in everyone’s best interest. He closed by noting, to applause, that he is advocating for the fields.

Hinesburg School Board Vice Chair Bill Baker agreed, noting that the town’s one existing field can’t be improved or altered because of its location in the LaPlatte floodplain.

Police Chief Frank Koss said that while he has no children, he has seen kids playing in an “ankle-twisting piece of grass” in the Creekside development with nowhere else to play. Koss added that the town can use the money to finish something kids can use now.

Recreation Commission Chair Frank Twarog noted that at one time, both town hiking trails and recreational fields were on the table as potential projects, but while the trails are done, the fields are not, as a result of which generations of kids have missed out on recreational opportunities in town.

Young Hinesburg resident Phoebe Denison rose to recall her experience playing soccer on a field so muddy that players would leave games soaking wet. Last year, Denison’s sixth-grade class raised $5,000 for the fields. Denison noted that she might not be able to use the Bissonette fields, but later generations will. She added that it’s hard on her parents to drive her up to Williston for her lacrosse games.

Hinesburg Recreation Director Jen McCuin noted that she’d spent all day contacting Charlotte and Williston, trying to set up recreational opportunities for Hinesburg children. She added that recreational opportunities are a priority to the parents at the Selectboard meeting and to her.

Hinesburg Trails Committee Chair Lenore Budd observed that the Selectboard will need to evaluate ideas for using the money in accordance with the Town Plan and the Geprags covenant, adding that whatever course of actions is chosen should have the longest-lasting benefit to as many as possible, and should also be something that can’t easily be funded otherwise.

Fellow Trails Committee member Jane Sheldon added that, regarding any “controversy” around the fields,  no one is saying that no money should be spent on fields. Rather, the concern, stemming from the Feb. 20 Selectboard meeting, was the lack of discussion. Now, said Sheldon, after discussion, the money should go to the fields but also to other projects. She later clarified that some seem to want to use all the Geprags money for the fields, and she wants people to hear other ideas too, in the interest of full disclosure, so that everyone’s informed regarding the decision.

Recreation Commission member Kyle Bostwick noted that it’s not about a ball or a goal but about community recreation. Residents have raised funds and advocated for the fields, he said, because the community is invested. He added that recreation creates community, and he wants to see the fields become a community gathering place.

Other suggestions from audience members included investing some of the money for use in future maintenance of town facilities, and using the fields as the staging area for Green-Up Day. Several audience members also noted that the idea of forming a committee for the use of the Geprags money – a nonbinding resolution from town meeting – was not necessary as the Selectboard, elected to represent the town, could handle this duty.

Toward the end of the discussion, Mary Beth Bowman rose to note that she hadn’t known this feeling regarding the fields was so prevalent in town, describing a new appreciation for the fields’ importance. Bowman added that she hoped some of the money will go to the park as well.

Matt Sayre stated his opinion that unlike many issues Hinesburg has faced recently, this isn’t complicated. “It’s a clear opportunity to unite around a lot of good work that’s already been done,” Sayre said.

Selectboard member Aaron Kimball noted that he’d never seen so many people turn out for a Selectboard meeting.

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