By MICHAEL FRETT
Islander Staff Writer
GRAND ISLE – Grand Isle’s selectboard on Thursday backed an effort to explore potentially developing an outdoor ice skating pavilion doubling as a summer sports and performance space in Grand Isle, agreeing unanimously to endorse a grant application seeking funding to study the pavilion.
Brought by Grand isle residents Roth Perry, Levi Kraemer, Ralf Schaarschmidt and Ashley White, the proposed pavilion is only in an exploratory phase, currently working on fundraising for an engineering study exploring the feasibility of developing such a space in Grand Isle.
The selectboard asserted as much during Thursday’s hearing, stressing the hearing was regarding only a $60,000 planning grant the nonprofit organization formed to develop the pavilion needed selectboard support to access. The nonprofit would fundraise to cover the grant’s 10% match.
“I don’t believe we were considering a binding commitment at all,” selectperson Eric Godin said. “This was just to make these guys could get their paperwork rolling with these grants.”
Perry, a volunteer coach, said the idea for the pavilion stemmed from a lack of a reliable public skating rink in Grand Isle. A natural outdoor rink had been set up locally in the past, but according to Perry, inconsistent winter weather made it difficult to plan classes and programming for the rink.
“You’d go and you’d prep it, and then you’d have a warm-up that weekend,” Perry told The Islander after Thursday’s hearing. “You couldn’t have any programming.”
Initially looking at an artificially chilled rink covered with a pavilion, Perry said the idea “snowballed,” eventually evolving into a year-round space that would include a stage for performances and the ability to convert the rink into courts for other sports like pickleball and tennis during the warmer months.
According to the group of residents floating the pavilion idea, surveys distributed over social media and through several local organizations have pointed to there being overwhelming support for the pavilion project, with around 90% of the 290 responding residents signaling some interest in using the facility.
Organizers said the positive response seemed to show locals agreed that there was, in Perry’s words, interest among Grand Isle residents for more recreational opportunities on the island and “more opportunities to meet people.”
“I think people are really craving community,” White, one of the four organizers pitching the pavilion to Grand Isle’s selectboard Thursday, added during a subsequent interview with The Islander.
In the weeks since the idea was first proposed, the pavilion has also drawn support from the Grand Isle Recreation Commission and local pickleball association, as well as the Island Stage Vermont Theater and the Champlain Islands Farmers’ Market, Perry told the selectboard during Thursday’s hearing.
“There is a paucity of venues in the islands for theater,” Noni Stuart, the president of Island Stage, told Grand Isle’s selectboard. “Really, the only viable theater is in North Hero, and that’s a wonderful space, but we don’t have anything further south, and I just feel like this might give us an opportunity.”
Judy Steacy, speaking for Island Arts, echoed Stuart’s sentiments during Thursday’s hearing.
“We have the barn up in North Hero, but we’re looking maybe expand as well and have different performing arts we could bring to other communities,” Steacy said. “If that was something we could expand upon, that would be great.”
While initially imagined for either Donaldson Park or the town-owned land abutting Grand Isle’s town office and fire station, Perry and several other residents involved with the nonprofit organization sponsoring the pavilion said they would also be open to building on private property as well.
Part of the study sought by the pavilion’s supporters was deciding where the pavilion could ostensibly be built in Grand Isle, something Perry stressed was not explicitly focused on town property, and already town interests in potentially developing land near its offices ruled out housing the pavilion nearby.
Focus had fallen on Donaldson Park, however, an area where, in previous meetings, local officials had discussed attempting to drive up traffic to help discourage vandalism in the park and an area, Perry told the selectboard, recreation commissioners hoped more people would regularly use.
While the proposed pavilion drew vocal support from some during Thursday’s hearing, others expressed concern with potentially siting the new pavilion on town land, citing in particular the town’s possible responsibility for the project should Donaldson Park come to host the pavilion.
Perry and others associated with the project asserted the pavilion’s construction and maintenance would be independently supported through fundraising by their nonprofit organization, the Islands Community Pavilion Organization, pledging new taxes would not be needed for the new pavilion.
Josie Leavitt, the selectboard’s vice chair, said any future construction in Donaldson Park would be prefaced by a memorandum of understanding between the town’s government and the pavilion’s nonprofit outlining maintenance responsibilities, insurance liabilities and other details.
“There are lots of ways to protect the town in terms of ensuring there is no rise to property taxes and, you know, the tax base in general,” Leavitt said.
Announcements regarding the grant application the selectboard endorsed Thursday, a Vermont Community Development Program grant, will likely not be made until this coming June.