Playground rehab gets nod from Sunderland voters

SUNDERLAND — Plans to resurface and upgrade the 17-year-old playground at the Sunderland Elementary School took center stage at this year’s town meeting.

At the Friday annual town meeting, voters supported spending $6,974,096 for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

For much of the three hours, 112 townspeople in attendance deliberated on the Community Preservation Act requests.

The cordial debate centered on the $95,578 project to pay for the first phase of the restoration and rehabilitation of the existing playground at the Sunderland Elementary School. The playground is at the rear of the school. Residents approved the project by majority vote.

The project — designed by Sunderland parent and landscape architect Carlos Nieto — involves an upgrade of the surface and update of older equipment. The existing rusting metal dome and the high steel slide would be removed and a webbed climbing structure would take its place. The existing plastic slide would remain.

The equipment changes would bring the playground for 6- to 12-year-olds up to code. The playground would also become more accessible with a rubber-tiled walkway.

The project was backed by Principal Benjamin Barshefsky and organized by the Sunderland Playground Committee.

Phase 1 of the project involves the fundamental groundwork for $116,000. The price the town would pay decreased through in-kind donations by local businesses and Deerfield Academy. Phase 1 would take place this year.

Total cost of the project is estimated at $400,000 and will involve four phases.

The debate came down to the cost. The CPC Committee had a split vote on the project.

CPC member Sara Synder said she did not recommend the project because she felt the volunteers should look for more grant opportunities to offset the cost to the town. Nieto countered that many grants only fund equipment and not the safety, surface and drainage parts of the project. He said the project cost is in line with typical municipal playgrounds.

In total, the town supported $131,687 in CPA projects this year. CPA Chairman Richard Lopatka also forewarned the residents that the project this year would consume a huge portion of the $150,000 annual contribution taxpayers make to the fund. The state provides a 100 percent match. With this year’s projects focused on recreation, he said the town will have to focus on other areas like housing, historical and open space preservation for the future.

Rec. projects approved

Townspeople supported the $8,451 CPA request to pay its share of costs to repair the Frontier Regional School tennis courts. The school administration has requested money from each of the four feeder towns to pay for the $33,000 project. The funds are contingent on positive votes from all four towns. Without repairs this year, the school would have to close the courts this fall to the public, school tennis team and physical education classes.

Townspeople also approved $20,458 from the CPA for the restoration and rehabilitation of the softball field at the elementary school, which would be named Merritt Field after the late school principal, Timothy Merritt.

The project would give the town its first official softball field, restoring the uneven field with the dead electric box hanging over it now. The project is shovel-ready with contractors and designers ready to break ground with the goal of restoring it by late spring or early summer.

Lastly, the town supported $10,000 of CPA money for Phase 1 conceptual design and feasibility study for a pedestrian and bicycle pathway system in the town center.

Lopatka withdrew the $33,650 request for CPA money to fund the design and restoration of the town office front entrance to save money for the CPA coffers.

Residents actually reimbursed the town $77,683 for local ambulance costs. The reimbursed money is a result of the delayed start-up of the South County Emergency Medical Service. In October, the town agreed to a six-month budget, anticipating a January to April launch. Because the service has not started yet, the town still has to pay its own ambulance bills and has not been billed by Deerfield, the fiscal agent of the regional service. Because the regional service has not spent the money yet, it will come back to the town. Likewise, Deerfield will be reimbursed $127,744 and Whately will get $41,367.

The regional paramedic service is expected to launch May 1 with 16 hours, seven days a week service, Selectman Thomas Fydenkevez said. By July 1, the service will upgrade to 24 hours, seven days a week.

Townspeople also approved $73,290 to pay the one-time cost of teacher retirements for the elementary school. The cost covers retirement benefits and payouts for three teachers.

Selectman’s chair Scott Bergeron said the town will make sure it never sees teacher retirement costs as a separate warrant article again.

Salaries restored

Right from the start, William Sillin of Sunderland requested the town to increase the total salaries for the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen. The increase, for which townspeople approved using free cash, restored the salaries to pre-2009 levels when the two boards voluntarily decreased their salaries under fiscal pressure. The increase was $425 for the selectmen and $150 for the planning board.

The town meeting was dedicated to Sunderland Fire Chief Robert Ahearn for his work helping to create the South County Emergency Medical Service with Deerfield and Whately.

“One of the most impressive things Bob has done is he had the vision to think about expanding the ambulance facility in town,” said Town Moderator Robert Ruby. “It took a lot of foresight on his part. He looked to how we can regionalize with Deerfield and Whately. With a heck of a lot of effort, we got it passed.”

In other business, the town approved:

∎ $12,415 for veterans benefits.

∎ $4,600 for a municipal technology audit.

∎ $4,460 to pay the remaining cost of the History of Sunderland Volume III publication.

∎ $11,675 for the highway snow/ice budget.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 or @RecorderKatMcK

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