NEWPORT — The Newport Selectboard plans to renew informational discussions with town residents about the benefit of building a new community center, in hopes to get voters to pass a bond for the project in May.
With a recent surge in home sales and new commercial projects in Newport, Selectboard Chair Jeff Kessler said on Monday that a new community center, along with a major renovation to the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center, represent two critical projects that could facilitate economic growth.
“We’re starting to see movement in town and these two projects will reinforce the benefit of investing in Newport,” Kessler said at this week’s selectboard meeting.
In May 2021 voters are expected to consider again whether to approve a $6.5 million bond to construct a new community center. If approved the taxpayers would be responsible for $3.5 million of the project and the remaining $3 million will be funded by donations.
Town voters rejected this proposal in May 2019 by a vote of 443 in favor and 553 against. The article, which requires a three-fifths majority vote to pass, fell well short in 2019, with only 44% support.
The selectboard have remained determined to build community support behind the project, though the board opted not to pursue the question on the 2020 warrant due to the uncertainties surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic.
While a renovation of the existing center remains an alternative, an engineering study in December 2019 by the Breadloaf Corporation, a Vermont firm, estimated the renovation cost at $2.9 million.
Kessler stated on Monday his preference to build anew, which would be similar in cost to the taxpayer and provide significantly greater capacity.
“The current center is about an 80- to 90-year-old building with a lot of deficiencies in it and certainly inadequate to meet the needs of our community and children,” Kessler said.
The current building, located on Belknap Avenue, has a total space of 8,000 square feet with a gymnasium that comprises 4,000 square feet. In comparison a proposed design for a new facility would have a total size of 29,000 square feet and a gymnasium of 8,000 square feet.
To educate residents about the renovation cost, the town has added new links to its project webpage, including one to the study presentation by Breadloaf and another to documents showing the project cost breakdown. All documents and links related to this project can be found at https://bit.ly/3dVqAGl.
Kessler stressed the need to put this question “on people’s radar,” especially because residents will also have to consider funding for renovating the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center the following year.
In 2022 the technical school is eligible to receive a state-funded matching grant for 75% of the construction and equipment costs to renovate the building. The building, built in 1993, is over 25 years old and not designed to meet the needs and standards of modern-day industries.
Jennifer Opalinski, the school’s director, said the renovation would enable the school to expand its programs, increase maximum enrollment and align classroom spaces and learning experiences with current industrial practices and needs.
The projected tax impact of that school renovation will be unknown until later next year, as the cost will depend on the design supported by the public. Additionally, the school community intends to pursue multiple funding sources, including grants, donations and fundraising campaigns, to offset some portion of the town’s obligation.
“They are both important projects to the town,” Kessler told the board. “It’s not like we may pick one or the other. But going forward we need to be looking at the costs involved and weighing the costs and benefits to the community.”
Kessler added that municipalities typically do not begin paying off bond debt until the project is complete, so the community will be benefiting from these projects before the payments hit the tax bills.
Home sales in Newport have increased in 2020 and two new housing projects in Newport will hopefully fill the rising demand for apartments while increasing the town’s overall assessed value, Kessler said.
Two new workforce housing projects approved this year expect to add a combined 74 new apartments in Newport.
Avanru, a development company in Walpole, plans to build a three-story apartment building on Spring Street for people with low to moderate incomes. The building will provide a total 42 units, including 24 single-bedroom units and 18 two-bedroom units.
In August the town approved another workforce housing project for a site on John Stark Highway, which aims to provide 32 living units.