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Will renovated Butterfield Park help Orange’s downtown?

The upgrades to Butterfield Park in Orange will include improving the ballfield, restoring the gransdtand and building a skating rink. Recorder/Paul Franz

The upgrades to Butterfield Park in Orange will include improving the ballfield, restoring the gransdtand and building a skating rink. Recorder/Paul Franz

ORANGE — Despite concerns raised by some officials about borrowing money to match a state grant to renovate Butterfield Park, some residents and business owners say the grant is vital to revitalizing the downtown area.

According to Town Treasurer Gabriele Voelker, the town will need to borrow the total project amount of about $425,000, but will be reimbursed for 70 percent of that amount over the two-year project.

At the end of that time, the town will be left with a long-term debt of $95,000, which will likely cost the town up to $12,000 per year.

If the town accepts the grant and borrows for the project, the grant will allow restoration of the 50-year-old grandstand, existing ballfield and bandstand, as well as expand park capacity with additional ball fields, and construction of a shade tree nursery, an ice skating rink, a half-mile track circling the park and a shed for an extended-season farmers market.

The Selectboard set a special town meeting later this month for voters to decide whether or not to finance the project.

At a recent selectmen’s meeting, Finance Committee Chairwoman Linda Smith questioned selectmen and their financial officers about whether the town can afford to take on the debt burden.

Selectboard member David Ames echoed her concerns. “I would love to see work done on that park ... my concern is that we’re borrowing money.” Ames said that servicing the loan for the required matching funds “would take away from the money we can use for other projects.”

But Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Reinig said the cost of the long-term loan divided among Orange residents works out to $5 per person per year, which she said was a small price to pay “to have a park that everyone can enjoy.”

Smith responded that residents “don’t think about paying $5 per head but about how many thousands they pay for taxes.”

As a volunteer coordinator of Starry, Starry Night, local business advocate Karl Bittenbender said he has been talking to many business owners and “is impressed by their concern about how we look downtown.”

Paul Anderson said that in the past seven years he has owned and operated Trailhead camping store, he witnessed businesses closing their doors because there were too few shops to support foot traffic necessary for a vibrant downtown. Many merchants and others have said that an expanded and renovated park would bring more people to downtown.

Polly Bixby, North Quabbin arts and recreation booster, said the development of new artistic and recreational activities is also critical to attracting shoppers.

While Anderson’s business has weathered the ups and downs of the Great Recession, he expressed a sense of urgency. “Next year we might have to close unless something happens.”

Bittenbender said the park renovations will bring young people and their families into town. Bittenbender said he sees the project as “a phenomenal investment we can make on behalf of our community.”

Bixby also encouraged voters to invest town resources in the project that offers hope of a more robust future for Orange. “If we want to cry poverty, all we are doing is putting ourselves down,” she said.

The special town meeting is set for Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.

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