Town finally celebrates Union Station project
BRATTLEBORO -- Ronnie Johnson and Helene Henry never gave up.
About 30 years ago they were part of the citizens' committee that first envisioned a cleaner and greener landscape across the street from Union Station.
Since then the project has been derailed and stalled.
The town has had to contend with federal audits, railroad bureaucracy, expired grants and environmental challenges as it tried to move the project forward.
And through it all Johnson and Henry have stuck with it; meeting on again and off again with the Union Station Committee and retaining the hope that one day they would be able to celebrate an improved view of the land across from Union Station, which is the first thing people see when they get off the train or travel over from Hinsdale, N.H.
That day finally came Wednesday afternoon.
Johnson and Henry, along with members of the Selectboard, town staff and local and state officials who helped with the project, met near the new bus station to officially mark the completion of the first phase of the Union Station project.
"Our goal was to make this a place people could enjoy, where they could create memories," Henry said Wednesday while sprinklers spread water across the new green field overlooking the Connecticut River. "We wanted to do a lot more, but we did what we could. And we're not finished."
Town Manager Barbara Sondag, at
When Henry and Johnson first got approval from the Selectboard in 1977 to apply for a grant to do a study, it looked like the work was going to be completed well before the end of the 20th century.
The study was done, but the project took a back seat to other plans, and it was not taken up again until 1998 when the Union Station project was tied to the proposed plan to build a parking garage.
U.S. Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., ceremoniously delivered the first federal grant, on a train, in 2000, and it seemed like the project was once again on a fast track.
Stevens and Associates did the first environmental assessment in 2001, but then the Union Station project was derailed.
It took the town about three years to purchase the land, and then in 2006 a federal audit on the Union Station and Parking Garage funding was ordered, which took three years.
The delay caused the town to lose the original Jeffords grant, and over the next few years environmental tests, challenges dealing with the railroad company and rising costs forced the Union Station Committee to scale back its plans.
Originally the group hoped to build a platform and improve the area directly behind the station, but they instead set their sites on acquiring the land across from the station, accessing the view of the Connecticut River and improving the parking.
The town still has long-range goals of renovating the inside of the train station and building a covered platform, but fundraising for those projects has not yet begun and the plans are probably years away from development.
On Wednesday the town celebrated the completion of the first phase.
"This is a momentous occasion," Sondag said. "There have been so many people involved with this, and there have been so many problems. I think if we had not had each other it could have been a really bad situation."
Selectboard member Chris Chapman recognized that the town's history is closely tied with the eastern corner of town where the new co-op and Whetstone Station Restaurant now join the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center and Marlboro Graduate School in the revitalized district.
And Chairman Dick DeGray said the project is a testament to the citizens in town who put their energies behind an idea and refuse to give up when faced with obstacles.
"We're lucky we have people in this community who stick with it and find solutions and don't throw up their hands when it gets hard," DeGray said. "This is what happens when people have a passion in the things they believe in,"
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.