Boards discuss fate of Essex Junction parks and rec

School districts merger means changes in oversight


Colin Flanders
The Essex Reporter

The decision by Essex, Essex Junction and Westford residents to form a unified school district has raised questions about who will oversee the Essex Junction Recreation and Parks Department once a new school board takes over.

The village recreation and parks department is regulated by the Prudential Committee, the board that oversees the village school district. When the unified school district begins operation on July 1, 2017, the Prudential Committee will cease to exist, essentially orphaning the village recreation department.

During a joint meeting of the village trustees and the town selectboard on Nov. 17, trustees President George Tyler said he hopes to gain the two boards’ consent to move forward with conversations about the rec department’s future, including the possibility of creating a “recreation district” with the village and town departments.

“Because particularly in the village this has been a very sensitive topic in the past, I want to be completely transparent about it before I even begin to talk with people like recreational directors and managers,” Tyler said.

Tyler suggested a meeting of the Prudential Committee, the trustees and the selectboard early next year to discuss the possibility of creating a committee charged with looking into the process and identifying issues posed by a recreational district. The committee could then develop a plan to be approved by village and town voters, Tyler said. No date has been set for that joint meeting.

Brad Luck, a member of the selectboard and the director of Essex Junction Recreation and Parks Department, echoed Tyler’s call for a committee, however he was hesitant to suggest that a recreational district is the best option.

“I wonder if the question should be how do we, in our two communities, want to continue to deliver recreation services in the future,” Luck said.

Doug Fisher, director of the town’s administrative services, suggested an interim step be put in place — such as the Board of Trustees taking control of the recreation department in the event that a decision still has not been reached by the deadline.

Tyler said questions like these would be important to raise during the meeting with the Prudential Committee early next year. He also stressed that while these conversations are in their early stages, the aim would be to maintain all current programs and services provided by both the town and village’s recreational departments, no matter what the decision.

“Given the huge popularity of both departments throughout the community right now, I think it would be madness to think we’re going to just be radically altering something here,” Tyler said.

From a user perspective, the transition should be “seamless,” Tyler said. “It’s just you’re moving how this is going to work at the top.”