BENNINGTON—Residents can look forward to more early childhood education services and an expanded recreation center next year, thanks to the unanimous support of the Select Board this week.
The United Counseling Service (UCS) has been given the go-ahead to expand the Bennington Recreation Center for an Early Childhood Center facility, receiving extra support from the Select Board since the project is entirely grant-funded and wouldn’t require funding from the town.
UCS and Bennington County Head Start proposed this facility for the Bennington Recreation Center with hopes to enhance early childhood education as well as offer more recreation opportunities for all ages.
While two phases are ultimately planned for this endeavor, Phase I will be the primary focus, with an expected completion date of fall 2019.
Phase one focuses on “immediate improvements” to Early Childhood Education services, including services for children 6 weeks old to five years old along with their families. This would include services to children with disabilities and comprehensive services to their family members.
The cost for Phase 1 is estimated at $800,000 to $1 million, however the entire cost will be covered by federal grant funding.
Structural improvements will be a large part of Phase I. An approximately 5,500 square foot expansion is planned for the front and side of the rec center. Included in this expansion would be a new front entryway with a child drop-off spot and an addition on the side of the center closest to Safford Street.
Other upgrades would include a community kitchen, basketball hoops, a trike track, soccer nets, and climbing structures.
While this phase brings upgrades to the rec center, there will be little impact to the open spaces and no changes to already-existing programs which include sports, gardens and outdoor activities.
New activities could include yoga, “paint with me” classes, outdoor education, supervised teen nights, after-school youth groups, workshops, study groups and parenting classes.
Phase II would focus on an expansion of the entire recreation center, adding extra programming for all ages. This phase would focus on “multi-generational programming,” offering updated recreational equipment for children and teenagers who often have trouble finding ways to relieve boredom especially during the summer.
A multi-court gymnasium is also part of the plan, and would include an elevated indoor running track with multiple lanes for those who exercise at different paces.
Other parts of the plan include a pickleball court, improved pool seating, and a pool viewing areas for swim meets.
Phase II funding, while still in the preliminary planning phase, would come from a “variety of places” said UCS Executive Director Lorna Mattern.
UCS will consider beginning a capital campaign to bring in community members to raise money toward the expansion of the rec center’s services.
“We would be looking at how we can bring in friends and neighbors in the community to donate and raise money towards expansion of services at the rec center,” she said.
However, Mattern says this idea is “very preliminary.” UCS will continue to meet with the town to discuss Phase II further.
UCS is a $24 million agency which has served the Bennington community for 60 years. There are 17 facilities from Manchester to Pownal.
Bennington’s Head Start program was one of the first head start programs in the nation, beginning at Bennington College. Now, the federally funded program serves over 160 children from birth to 5 years old. Head Start is part of UCS’s “umbrella” of programs offered.
Head Start not only provides education, it also provides children with up-to-date immunizations, physicals, vision and hearing tests, and developmental monitoring. Two nurses are always on site.
“We need childcare,” said Director of Early Childhood Services Betsy Rathbun-Gunn “It’s important for us…to be able to make sure the kids are ready for kindergarten.”