Proposed Pool Depends Upon A New Wave Of Cooperation In St. Albans
On Town Meeting Day, St. Albans voters will consider building a year-round pool at the base of a community ski hill. If approved, the project will mark a new era of cooperation between St. Albans City and St. Albans Town.
The $5.5 million project will be floated past voters in both St. Albans town and city on March 3. If it passes, St. Albans City Manager Dominic Cloud said it will be a first.
"The town and the city are quite literally buying into something together," Cloud said. "I think it’s the first thing ever that the two communities own jointly. So it’s a real sign of changing times in greater St. Albans."
"The town and the city are quite literally buying into something together. ... So it's a real sign of changing times in greater St. Albans." — Dominic Cloud, St. Albans City Manager
It hasn't always been smooth sailing between the city and town. For the past decade or so, the two communities have been battling over water and sewer issues. The town sued the city over user access and rates for the city's systems.
But Cloud said the rub goes much farther back.
"In many ways, it goes back to 1896, when the city was formed," he said.
It's a dynamic that plays out in communities throughout Vermont, Cloud said. City governments were formed to provide more services to residents like water and sewer as well as police and fire protection.
St. Albans Town — home to about 7,000 residents — is dotted with farms. St. Albans City has roughly the same population, but was built up around the railroad and is home to a number of manufacturers.
"The city's always offered a buffet, and St. Albans Town has always been interested in á la carte — 'We'll take the government services we want,'" Cloud said.
But in recent years, the political leadership in St. Albans has evolved.
At 22, Brendan Deso is chair of the select board in St. Albans Town. He’s a sixth-generation St. Albans resident, and he spent his early childhood living in the city. Then in the third grade, he moved to the town to live with his grandparents.
"It's easier to see one community when you’ve lived on both sides of it," Deso said. "I mean, you just don’t see the borders."
Part of growing up in St. Albans – the city or the town – is sliding down Hard’ack. It’s a small sledding and ski hill in town, just outside city limits. It has lights and a single rope tow. In the evenings, the city recreation department offers ski and snowboard lessons, with parental assistance. And it's where many local kids learn the fine art of steering a sled, as Deso did growing up.
"You don’t have to come with anything more than appropriate clothing and something to slide down the hill on to be able to use this," Deso said of the hill. "And that’s one of the best parts of Hard’ack, is you don’t have to be able to afford a season’s pass and, you know, $1,000 worth of equipment that your kids are gonna grow out of."
"It's easier to see one community when you've lived on both sides of it." — Brendan Deso, St. Albans Town Select Board Chair
It’s in that same spirit that city and town leaders would like to build a municipal swimming pool and pool house near the base of Hard’ack hill. The pool will be under a bubble structure in the winter and open to the outdoors in the summer.
The 200-acre Hard’ack recreation area is currently owned by the city, but located in the town. Cloud, the city manager, explained the city can’t afford the project on its own, so it asked the town to partner.
"You drive down costs by communities working together," he said. "So now we have another 7,000 residents, and you know, another tax base that’s available to generate the public investment to support this resource."
So Cloud and Deso struck a deal: The city would give the town equal ownership in the entire Hard’ack recreation area. The project would be funded through a 1% local option tax.
And now, Deso said, it’s up to the voters to decide.
"We’re not committing the town to anything," he said. "And we’re just lining it up, so that if the voters do approve this project [on March 3], we have a clear path forward that we can move on March 4."
City voters will also be asked to approve a charter amendment to allow for a local option tax that would help pay for the pool. In the city, the tax would be put toward the pool project and neighborhood sidewalk bonds.
Deso said if the project does pass, it will be another asset to attract young families to St. Albans:
"We’re trying to take this recreation area from a nice dog park with a ski hill to something that really makes St. Albans a community of distinction."