Rockingham Selectboard discuss train station ownership

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the Rockingham Selectboard discussed updates on the train station and grants with Development Director Gary Fox.

Fox explained that Windham Regional Commission had facilitated the application for phase one of the environmental and hazardous materials feasibility studies. Fox reminded the board at the 2020 Town Meeting taxpayers had approved an article $12,500 for the feasibility study at the Train Station. Fox said staff had helped procure match funds for a total of $25,000.

Three architectural firms – Banwell Architects from Lebanon, N.H., Austin Design of Brattleboro, and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of South Burlington – offered pre-bid on their site visits. The award was expected to be announced by Dec. 15 so that the environmental hazardous materials analysis and feasibility study would commence in the spring of 2022.

Part of the study would identify funding sources for town ownership and assist in finding private operators for the building use. Fox explained that would “ensure the waiting area portion of the station stays in public transit in perpetuity.”

The town would also be eligible for funding sources from USDA Community Facilities Grant and the Vermont Community Development Program Implementation Grant. Fox explained, “The state has indicated that they would include our station in their [Federal Transit Administration] application” as part of the $1.3 trillion infrastructure program.

Bonnie North asked how much the station would cost to purchase. Fox said $250,000, but that grants could contribute so the town would not be paying that amount. The lot included the passenger station, the freight station, and gravel parking area.

Chair Peter Golec wondered about the local match. Fox said that number would become clear in the next couple of months.

Municipal Manager Scott Pickup said they could add an article to Town Meeting for a local share consideration.

Golec said as a historical fact 15 years ago, it failed. He said, “The feeling was the town did not need to own the train station.”

Fox replied that was why the station was deteriorating and “Why we weren’t able to apply a couple of million dollars in earmarks that were designated to the project.” He pointed out that “We’re at that place… if we don’t do something with it now it’s going to end up going the way of [Robertson Paper Mill and the YMCA] buildings.”

Fox explained, “We have the opportunity [with the train station] to do it now.” He said for federal infrastructure funding, they need to know that the station is municipality owned. He said this was part of Windham County’s regional economic strategy.

Golec said, “Going forward… if we lose the train station, we lose access to trains and transportation.”

North said it is important for people to understand the steps necessary in saving the station. She said, “We’ve known for years [about 66 Atkinson Street deteriorating], we don’t want to repeat that with the Train Station.”

Hammond agreed, “Especially since there’s money in this transportation bill and for Amtrak.”

The next Selectboard meeting is Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m., with extra time allowed for budget proposals.

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