Chichester puts its money behind community playground

  • Paul Adams looks over the warrant items at the Chichester town meeting at the elementary school on Saturday. Adams runs an environmental non-profit in town. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Former state representative and moderator Douglas Hall talks with friends before the Chichester town meeting at the elementary school on Saturday, March 16, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/16/2019 5:34:57 PM

It stood for over twenty years – the social epicenter for Chichester’s young families. But last summer an insurance assessment found the playground at Carpenter Memorial Park riddled with safety hazards, and by October it was torn down and carted away.

Then the town rallied. For almost a year, a team of parents, residents and local organizations have taken up the mantle, knocking on doors and gathering donations to fill the gap.

They sold pumpkins. They held rallies. One ten-year-old declined birthday presents at his party, opting for playground donations instead.

“That’s how much this matters to the town,” said Robyn Eldredge, vice president of the Chichester Youth Association, who helped spearhead the effort.

Altogether, the association and the Parks and Recreation commission raised nearly $10,000 and gained approval for an additional $14,000 from a town capital reserve fund.

On Saturday, local taxpayers picked up the rest. At the Chichester annual town meeting, residents approved raising an additional $20,000 for the playground in taxpayer money, at a cost of six cents per $1,000 in property valuation.

If all goes well, it’ll be back on site by baseball season. Eldredge was elated.

“It’s like the heart of the community, that park,” she said. “And without that, it’s like what do the kids do?”

The item was approved as part of a lengthy town meeting Saturday, in which an eagle-eyed electorate challenged a series of budget recommendations by the select board.

The town passed an operating budget of $2,532,681 a $143,037 increase – or 5.99 percent – over last year’s. That included a 36 percent increase for ambulance funds, a 19 percent hike for the fire department, and a near-doubling of payroll for building inspection.

But that final number came after residents whittled down certain items throughout the process, saving about $60,000 in the process.

Voters rejected a recommendation by the select board to pay $20,000 for two studies into municipal efficiency and administrative salaries, with many arguing the reviews could be carried out by the select board itself.

They reduced the amount paid for town employees’ health benefits, after one town official announced she had changed her health plan and saved $9,000. And they cut the amount available for contracts for road reconstruction by $30,970, after some expressed frustration that they had been awarded to Busby Construction Co. rather than Merrill Construction Inc., which had bid lower.

In a separate vote, the town opted for another major change: a replacement fire truck. The last one lasted 20 years, according to the town department. The replacement will be funded by $295,000 out of an existing capital reserve account, and it will likely be bought used, at least 10 years old, the department said.

But for Eldredge, a parent with rooted connections in the town, the funds for the playground shone above the rest. The places bustles during baseball season, packed with families and younger siblings; for months it’s been a pit of mulch.

And while the old facilities had deteriorating support beans and structural “traps” that could cause injury, the new one, while not too flashy, should last for decades more, she said.

On Saturday, Eldrege gave one final plea to the town’s parents.

“Instead of being on electronics or bugging you at home, take them to the park and play,” she said. “That’s what kids should do.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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