by Joshua Jerome
BARRE — There has been a lot of economic development work in downtown Barre over the last six years: there was the massive reconstruction project that saw the replacement of infrastructure underneath Main Street throughout historic Barre; the renovation of an entire building, Blanchard Block, which restored wooden floors and architectural details throughout; City Place, a newly constructed office building that houses state workers and several businesses was a public-private partnership that complemented the historic charm of the downtown. Both Capstone Community Action and Downstreet Housing and Community Development re-developed blighted areas of the downtown into workplace campuses.
The revitalization of any downtown happens incrementally and involves multiple financial tools along with public-private partnerships, but equally important is the community’s willingness to participate. And not just as consumers checking out a new store, but by actually affecting change through community engagement and action. The Mathewson Playground, located right downtown at the corner of Summer Street and Elm Street was constructed right across the street from Mathewson School in the 1930s to serve as the neighborhood/school play area. For the past 25 years, a group of community volunteers has spearheaded improvements to the play area, maintaining the public space for families to engage with their children and other parents.
Although the school closed in 1995 the playground has remained an important public space. In 2011, a group of community members worked to shore up funding to make some long overdue renovations a reality. The historic granite wall was repaired and cleaned, new 8-foot-high fencing was installed, drainage was improved and new asphalt was put down. In 2012, a Mathewson Playground Committee was formed and have done some landscaping enhancements by removing invasive species, pruning shrubbery and installing a sign. With the completion of Downstreet’s offices and housing complex this past summer, a mere skip away from the playground, Ellen Sivret, one of the committee members believes “this is the time to work towards replacing the 22-year-old safety mats and play set.”
Although the playground is owned by the City of Barre there is no allocated funding for the replacement of equipment any time soon, so the committee has begun fundraising from the community. The playground is focused on children ages five to 11, helps enrich the lives of its users and enhances its surrounding buildings and neighborhood. It enhances the civic realm adding definition and contributing to community health and is a vital family oriented asset in the downtown. The cost of the proposed project is not cheap at just over $70,000 and being just a volunteer-run committee prohibits it from being eligible for some funding sources. However, this is not stopping the committee from moving full steam ahead in raising the necessary funds.
Over the coming weeks and months, the committee will reach out to the community and have conversations with organizations that have a vested interest in seeing the playground continue to evolve into a great public space. A space that can enhance all of the redevelopment that has already taken place and help to define a sense of community for future generations to come. If you are interested in learning ways to help the Mathewson Playground Committee, please contact Ellen Sivret at 479-0659, Jon Santorello at 479-0766 or Rose Averill at 476-7668.