SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Voters on Tuesday approved the use of $180,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance for a new playground by a vote of 422-108.
Whether funding for the playground, located behind Harbor House, would be the responsibility of residents through the town budget or the school budget was the subject of debate for several months this winter.
On election day, voters were asked to approve using $180,000 from the undesignated fund balance to be paid back with revenue from taxes at $30,000 per year over the next six years.
“I’m delighted the town recognized the importance of rebuilding the playground,” said Ingrid Wilbur Kachmar, executive director of Harbor House. “It’s a town resource that is well-used and well-loved. It’s important for this work to get done.”
Kachmar expressed excitement about the voter approval as a parent, resident, school board member and Harbor House employee. Her two children are grown but spent lots of time on the playground in years past.
Earlier this year, selectmen decided not to have a request for funding go before residents at the annual town meeting in May, citing a lack of concrete information around the cost of the project.
Built nearly 30 years ago, the playground shows signs of age with multiple patches of rust and erosion. The facility is used by the elementary school and Harbor House Community Center but also by other residents and visitors.
Total cost estimates for the project are about $219,000, according to Rhonda Fortin, principal of Pemetic Elementary School. That includes improving the foundation and retaining wall, adding light posts, removing the current structure and building a new one with greater accessibility for wheelchairs.
“This was a huge hurdle to get that passed,” said Holly Masterson, parent and advocate for the playground replacement. “Hopefully, this is now a positive thing for everybody. I know the kids are excited.”
Over the last three decades, all fundraising and repair efforts have been spearheaded and implemented by mothers in the community. Several different campaigns have resulted in improved equipment or grounds care. Many of those fundraisers have been vocal about the town or the school needing to take over responsibility for a whole new structure.
Requests for bids will soon go out to the public for the project, Fortin said. Coordinating the different aspects of construction may make it difficult to complete the new playground this season.
“It all takes time,” she said.
“It’s so great that this is finally happening,” Masterson said. “We are in good spirits.”