St. Johnsbury Academy and its facilities officially became the home of the St. Johnsbury Recreation Department on Nov. 1, 2010, as part of a unique public-private partnership formed between the municipality and the school. The Academy now provides recreational programming to the community as a contracted service of the town. And the past year has been a good one for youth and families engaged in recreation programs in St. J, with an ever-growing and lively menu of programs and activities within Community Recreation.
"There has always been a history of public service by the Academy and its faculty, staff, and student body. This new arrangement was the natural progression of a long-standing relationship between the Academy and the town's recreation department," says Joe Fox, director of recreational programs for St. Johnsbury Academy Community Recreation. "I served as Recreation director for the Town of St. Johnsbury for five years, and during that time employed the services and talents of countless Academy faculty, staff, and students. In fact, four members of my advisory board over those five years were or are now members of the Academy team in one capacity or another. Even the Academy's headmaster, Tom Lovett, has coached several youth basketball teams in our rec league over the years!"
"The town has gained a stable home base for its recreation programs with a guarantee that ongoing programs remain high-quality and community-friendly. Much of this guarantee comes from the retention of Joe Fox as program director," said Academy Headmaster Lovett.
Fox relates that in the spring and early summer of 2010 when St. Johnsbury was dealing with budget discussions for all line items, the Academy stepped up and began discussions about securing and stabilizing the Recreation Department's programs and lending a hand for use of space. Those discussions ultimately led to the Academy fully funding the new position of Director of Recreational Programming (now Fox's position), saving the town tens of thousands of dollars, and then utilizing funds from a negotiated contract fee from the town to provide a scholarship fund for local youth to participate in recreational programs.
"Not only have more people been able to participate in programs as a result," says Fox, "but fees remain steady and, in many cases, have been be lowered, allowing greater participation as a result of institutional savings from shared resources at the Academy. This is really a community meeting place, bringing people together."
Today, in addition to being a top-quality facility for the 900-plus students at the Academy, the Field House and adjacent Academy athletics fields are utilized by literally thousands of area youth and adults from the community each year.
The Academy has an open door to the community when it comes to Alumni Memorial Gymnasium (the traditional wood-floor gym) and the school's broad-based recreational facility, the Field House, which houses a weight room, cardio room, three side-by-side, multi-use courts, an indoor track, and a six-lane, 25 meter swimming pool. The facility is a hub of activity and is open to the public for both day use and various membership options. Field House membership is also free to Academy employees and to area public-service workers, such as firemen and women, the police, EMTs, and those serving in the military.
While built primarily to serve the Academy's athletic and intramural needs for the high-school student body, the Field House, thanks to creative planning and a community-minded spirit, is the setting of many community events and activities, including two large youth wrestling tournaments, the newly formed Community Recreation Department's youth basketball league, the St. Johnsbury Swim Club, Red Cross Life Guarding classes, an adult volleyball league, numerous aqua aerobic and fitness classes, a Japanese Archery program, and much more. Numerous athletics camps are also offered to area youth throughout the school year and into summer.
"The Hilltoppers' varsity athletic programs are the benefactors of a strong developmental youth program, and the Academy is excited in partnering in these efforts with our local communities," said David McGinn, Academy athletic director, who also oversees the Field House. McGinn joined the Academy this year from Thetford Academy, where he was the long-time AD and most recently interim headmaster.
The indoor and outdoor tracks have been home base to the St. Johnsbury Recreation Department's track-and-field program for more than 20 years; the Raymond Frey outdoor track has for the past three years been the location for the Vermont Recreation and Parks Association (VRPA) State Track Meet in July. (The Academy's youth team is two-time defending state champions.) In addition to the support, guidance, and time and talents provided by members of VRPA, dozens of Academy faculty, staff, volunteers, and student athletes gave their time and talents in the days, weeks, and months leading up to this big event to create one of the premier youth sporting events in the state.
"We're proud to share our facilities with the townspeople of St. Johnsbury, particularly through our youth outreach and educational health-and-wellness programs and athletics camps," said McGinn. "We hear from people all the time who value the Field House as a great place to work out or have a swim or take a fitness class. It's a hub in St. Johnsbury for healthy, active folks."
St. Johnsbury Academy Community Recreation was awarded the Theresa S. Brungardt Award from the Vermont Recreation and Parks Association (VRPA). The Brungardt Award is the highest honor bestowed by the VRPA. According to the VRPA's Website, the award was established in 1975 to recognize recreation pioneer, Theresa S. Brungardt. Brungardt was Vermont's first state director of Recreation and traveled throughout Vermont to help communities with their recreation program and in 1977 was inducted into the NRPA Hall of Fame. According to Joe Fox, this is the first time a private school has won the award.