MANCHESTER — Officials want to know if the town should go big or think small when it comes to a proposed new park at the site of the former fire station.

Creating a public park on the spot between the town office and Manchester Elementary School was envisioned by both an open space plan conducted in 2004 and the more recently drafted Manchester Comprehensive Plan.

But it left open the question of how big of a park to build. Officials, during a sometimes contentious debate, have come up with two options to present to residents.

Either create a green space roughly on the footprint of the former, 70-by-90-foot fire station, at a cost of about $12,000.

Or create a park about twice that size, at a cost of up to $35,000.

The question of just how much park to build goes to voters in a referendum vote as part of the June 12 municipal elections.

“It boils down to a difference of philosophy about how you feel about public space,” said Selectman Martha Nielsen, a member of the Central Park Committee. “Some feel public space should just be functional, that aesthetics are not important. Others feel looks and having a beautiful public space are important, and make you feel good.”

Committee member Doug Ide said the recommendation of the park committee was the larger of the two options, which would replace part of what is now a gravel and asphalt parking lot where the fire station once stood with green space extending out to Route 17.

He said a traffic engineer did not recommend a park just covering the footprint of the old fire station, which officials are now referring to as “option B,” because it was the “least safe” option. It has the potential, Ide said, for traffic circulating closely around all four sides of the park.

But selectmen decided to also present voters with that as a possibility, after receiving the committee’s recommendation.

“Some on the committee felt the selectmen wedged themselves into the process by also inserting option B,” Ide said. “The committee recommendation, some feel, wasn’t taken as seriously as it should have been. Our charge was to design the park.”

However, Selectmen Bob Gasper said he feels people should have both options to choose from, and going with a smaller, less expensive park that preserves more of the paved area now used by some for parking is an choice some may prefer.

Gasper said selectmen considered, but agreed to reject, a third option: just pave the site, at a cost of about $10,000, as a parking lot.

“The people should have options, something else to choose from,” Gasper said. “I know it doesn’t sit well with the committee, but some might like to spend less. And it’s not just about money. Some might prefer the utility” of a smaller park on the site.

A new fire station was built in 2009, across Route 17 from the old station, which has since been torn down.

The question before voters next month is primarily the size and footprint of the park. What, exactly, will be included as part of the park and its actual design have not yet been determined.

Nielsen said whichever option is chosen by residents, the proposed new park will come back to voters for final approval once the design and budget are settled, likely at a special town meeting this summer.

The June 12 referendum vote on which park proposal residents want will impact some warrant article decisions to be made by voters at the annual Town Meeting on June 14, at 6:30 p.m., at Manchester Elementary School.

One article will ask voters for $12,000 to build a new park. However, if the larger park proposal is favored on June 12, voters at the annual meeting would also be asked to use $23,000 to help build the park.

Gasper said if voters go with the smaller park, only requiring about $12,000 to build, the $23,000 would likely go into the town’s general fund.

 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

PARK IT

A public informational meeting to discuss proposals to create a public park at the site of the former Manchester fire station is set for May 31 at 7 p.m. at Manchester Elementary School.

Voters will be asked which of two park proposals — one roughly twice the size of the other — they prefer in a secret ballot referendum vote as part of the municipal election on June 12. Voting will take place at the new Manchester fire station from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Depending on what voters decide at the polls, questions relating to the funding for the proposed park project could go to voters at the annual Town Meeting, which is June 14 at 6:30 p.m., at Manchester Elementary School.


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