Preston playground project moves toward September town meeting, referendum

Preston - Town officials are hoping to schedule a town meeting in September and a referendum shortly afterward to seek voter approval for a $126,861 playground for third- through fifth-graders at the Preston Veterans' Memorial School.

After arguing over the price, source of funding and whether promised volunteer labor would come to fruition, it took two split votes for the Board of Finance to forward the project to the Board of Selectmen to set a town meeting date. The selectmen meet Thursday to discuss the project and a potential schedule for the town meeting and referendum.

The entire project would cost $149,961, but $23,100 worth of work - including excavation of the site - would be done by volunteers recruited by the PTO. A group of parents has worked on the project since last September, paring down the projected cost and the design from the initial total of $250,000 to the final figures. This is the sixth project design, said parent Melissa Lennon.

Board of Finance member Andrew Bilodeau initially proposed that the entire project cost of $149,961 be sent to voters, because the town couldn't count on promises of volunteer labor, and taxpayers should know the entire cost. His motion failed 3-2.

First Selectman Robert Congdon and finance board Chairman Jerry Grabarek said the higher price tag might make it too costly and would diminish the many hours of work the parents put into the project securing volunteer support.

Lennon and parent Heather Helwig said several local contractors have pledged to support the project and would volunteer their time, skills and equipment.

Congdon also argued that the finance board should make it clear that the Board of Education also contributed $28,000 in funds from the 2013-14 fiscal year toward the project. The school board voted in June to turn over the $28,000 to the town as surplus but that the money should be devoted to the playground project. The Board of Education also agreed to maintain the equipment and open the playground to the public during nonschool hours.

In the second vote Monday, the finance board voted 3-2 to recommend using $98,861 from the town's capital nonrecurring account and the remaining $28,000 from the town general fund surplus, the Board of Education money, for the project.

Cannon said specifying the sources of the funding would show residents that the playground is a community project, with support from town boards and the public. He called for an end of the bickering and more "civility."

c.bessette@theday.com

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