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Guest Column: Riding a New Wave of Interest in Community Space

BY ERIN BRADY AND ANGELA ARSENAULT

There is a conversation bubbling in Williston about a collective wish. In recent months, Willistonians have been talking about a shared interest in creating a community space for recreation, gathering and connection that is accessible to all.

At last spring’s series of events focused on the use of form-based code in our town, there were extensive discussions about how Williston will “change, grow and evolve.”

One common theme expressed throughout was the desire for a community and senior center with recreation facilities (like a pool and fitness center), and more green spaces that are accessible to folks of all ages and abilities.

There is an ongoing discussion about federal funds coming to Williston as part of the American Rescue Plan and how our community should invest those funds. We can’t help thinking of the many community and recreation destinations that were created in Vermont over 75 years ago as a result of the New Deal, ranging from high school athletic fields to state parks.

Most recently, our community has reacted with shock — and a lot of questions — to the news that The Edge will soon close its Williston facility. There have been many calls for the town to purchase the facility or find a way to salvage the pool and fieldhouse. The pool has been an important fitness facility for many in our community — particularly seniors — and, as Edge members at one time, we were fortunate to enjoy the club’s amenities and programming.

However, facilities at The Edge were never accessible to all given the cost and commitment of membership, and the pool was reserved much of the time for the swim team. It was (and is) a business, not a community resource.

We probably all have our own ideas about what the ideal facility would be for Williston. There has long been a need for a senior center. If you ask Erin’s kids they will lobby for mini golf or a place to swim on a cold winter day when there isn’t enough snow for sledding. Angela’s kids will vote for an outdoor pool with a diving board. (There are very few outdoor public pools in our region, and those that exist are extraordinarily crowded, frequently reaching capacity on a hot summer day.)

It’s worth noting that other communities in Vermont have built community recreation/ aquatic centers in a variety of ways. The Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction is a non-profit that was started with a large capital campaign. The City of St. Albans is currently building a year-round swimming pool (it will have a dome over it in the winter) after recently approving a local options tax.

Neither of us are experts in land use, development, construction, finance or engineering and we do not have a clear answer for what Williston’s path should be. But we are deeply committed to our community and inspired by the enthusiasm we’ve seen for a truly accessible community space in Williston to recreate and gather. We’re willing to put the skills and expertise we each have toward this goal.

For Erin, that means helping with organization and planning meetings or next steps. For Angela, that means using her writing and publicity talents. We will both bring an intentional equity lens to this conversation and seek ways to reduce barriers to access.

Whether you simply support the idea or want to roll up your sleeves and help see what might be possible, everyone brings something valuable to the proverbial table. We hope you’ll fill out this short survey and keep this wave going (go to https:// tinyurl.com/2cnx6ay4 to access the survey).

Erin Brady is a state representative for Williston and a member of the Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) Board of Directors; Angela Arsenault is chair of the CVSD Board of Directors and a member of the Williston-Richmond Rotary Club.

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