$14 million field house in Manchester on multiple Town Meeting Day agendas

An architect’s rendering shows the proposed Manchester field house that voters in several towns will consider on Town Meeting Day 2022. Image via BMA Architects and Planners

During Town Meeting Day on Tuesday, the residents of several southwestern Vermont towns will weigh in on whether their towns should contribute to the construction of a $14 million regional field house in Manchester.

The Northshire Community Field House is envisioned as a sporting venue, recreation center and programming space that would serve multiple towns. It would be built within Manchester’s Dana Thompson Memorial Park and encompass an area equivalent to 16 high school basketball courts. 

The field house design features a 228-meter running track, a 45-foot rock climbing tower and a fitness center, according to the project website.

Plans detail the first floor of the proposed facility. Image via BMA Architects and Planners

The building would include a couple of multipurpose rooms — which could host community events or classes — as well as three multipurpose courts for basketball, volleyball, pickleball and futsal, a type of indoor soccer. The courts could be converted into space for other sports, such as gymnastics and baseball training.

The field house aims to promote health, fitness and social interaction, according to project proponents. They said an indoor location is particularly important in an area that has long, severe winters.

The town of Manchester has been discussing the need for such a place for more than 15 years, a facility that would also promote economic development, said Town Manager John O’Keefe. But the idea took shape only after a local foundation offered to shoulder a quarter of the $14 million construction cost.

The $3.5 million has been pledged by the Right Track Foundation Inc., a family foundation based in Manchester. 

“This kind of commitment only comes along, really, once in a generation,” O’Keefe said.

Bill Drunsic, spokesperson for the foundation, said he and his family wanted to help put up a facility that would benefit as many people as possible. 

“I was fortunate from some of my business projects to be able to set aside some funds here to give back to my community, which has been good to me and my family,” he said.

With voter approval, the town of Manchester would contribute $3 million to the field house. The town would own and operate the facility.

The rest of the funding largely would come from participating towns. In exchange, town residents or those who own a second home would get priority to use the field house spaces and at a reduced membership rate.

Annual membership fees for the residents of participating towns, for instance, would be $125 for one person, $200 for a couple and $250 for a family. In comparison, nonresidents would pay $500 for an individual, $800 for a couple and $1,000 for a family. 

Question goes to voters

Eight towns have included an item about the project in their Town Meeting Day agendas this week, asking voters if they “indicate support for the concept of a regional field house” in Manchester.

These towns are Dorset, Landgrove, Manchester, Peru, Rupert, Sunderland and Winhall in Bennington County, as well as Danby in Rutland County.

Londonderry, in Windham County, has decided to also include the agenda item for its Town Meeting Day on April 30.

Participating in the project means contributing to the construction cost under a formula based on the town grand list, population and distance from the facility. The Town Meeting Day vote results are advisory and would not bind the towns.

The Bennington County Regional Commission said the field house is consistent with the Bennington County Regional Plan. The plan includes recommending public support for the development and expansion of recreational facilities in the area, as well mutual cooperation among municipalities and other entities to promote the quality and variety of such facilities.

The project also builds on Manchester’s efforts to enhance the area’s appeal as a regional center for sporting events, according to a Feb. 8 memo from the regional commission’s director, Jim Sullivan.

In a state with an aging population, project consultant Cynthia Gubb said the field house would help attract and retain younger people in the region.

“We need some families with some children to help the aging demographic we have here in Vermont,” said Gubb, co-owner of Gubb & Bongartz Nonprofit Consulting located in Manchester. 

Project proponents are hoping many towns would buy into the project. O’Keefe said the breadth of the field house’s current design and its financial viability would depend on the participation of towns with a combined population of 10,000. 

Drunsic is hoping that groundbreaking for the facility can happen by late 2022, Gubb said. But she said it might not take place till early 2023, because of the preparations involved. Construction is expected to run for one-and-a-half years.

The estimated contribution of towns that included the field house on their Town Meeting Day agenda are as follows: Danby $413,000, Dorset $1.3 million, Landgrove $110,000, Londonderry $628,000 and the above-mentioned $3 million from Manchester.

The estimate for the other towns are: Peru $326,000, Rupert $223,000, Sunderland $438,000 and Winhall $787,000.

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