EXETER — Members of the Select Board had several questions Monday regarding a $250,000 warrant article that will go before voters in March that would cover the design and engineering costs of the future expansion of the town’s recreation park.
Board member Don Clement pressed Parks and Recreation Director Greg Bisson on what the endgame would be in the event the article receives the necessary 60 percent vote needed for approval at Town Meeting. The discussion comes ahead of a planned Jan. 15 public hearing on the fiscal year 2019 budget and the other 31 proposed warrant articles.
“Usually when we do design (and) engineering, we have a specific concept or idea what we’re going to design and engineer for,” Clement said. “We’re talking about design and engineering of what? This seems open-ended that we don’t know what’s going to come out of design and engineering. What’s the scope?”
Bisson said the objective of the engineering and design for the recreation park at 4 Hampton Road is to solicit request for proposals to examine a litany of issues at the property including replacing Planet Playground in the future, and potentially reconfiguring the parking facility and building new athletic fields, all of which the department has had schematically designed. Bisson said after the task is complete, there would be a public process to determine the best course of action for addressing future projects in a multi-year, phased approach.
The proposed warrant article comes after voters last year rejected a $7.1 million citizen petition for the complete renovation and expansion of the park. The article failed by a vote of 1113 to 1470.
“This is going to become a roadmap, so we do have an opportunity where we have these private entities that are willing to put money towards the project, but we want to do this in a way where we’re not stepping on our toes,” Bisson said. "One question that came out of last year's proposal was voters were coming away asking what the true cost was going to be, fearing overruns, so we want to get that part of the work done and have better details when we go back to voters to bond the whole project in the future.”
Town Manager Russ Dean said, if passed, the $250,000 bond would be paid over five years.
"Stretching it over five years gives us the opportunity to fundraise and cover some of the cost," Bisson said. "It's a short-term bond so we'll get it paid off quickly and not having it sitting out there."
Chairwoman Julie Gilman said she supported the warrant article but thought it needed to be worded stronger so voters understood what the expectation would be upon completion. Currently, the draft warrant article reads in part, “To see if the town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $250,000 for the purpose of design and engineering costs related to the future renovation and expansion of the recreation park at 4 Hampton Road…”
“What’s not happening in this article, is something saying ‘this’ is the next logical step,” Gilman said.
Board member Kathy Corson said the scope of the design and engineering was being fitted to examine the feasibility of the recreation department’s existing conceptual schematics of what the facility would ideally look like in the future.
“With that schematic, you went out and talked to professionals and they said this is what it’s going to cost for this specific design,” Corson said. “There’s extensive engineering and design work and that’s how they came up with this price.”
Dean said the $250,000 allocation provided the town a chance to “step back” and reassess how it wants to renovate the recreation facility in the most cost-effective manner while redesigning the property to best suit residents.
“We know this project has been discussed at length for multiple years at this point,” Dean said. “The intent here … is to take this appropriation, do the proper due-diligence, develop the best project possible and then bring it forward.”