North Adams Envisions Return of Downtown Football

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The community will have input into the uses for the Armory, which is being turned into a community center.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — High school football could return to Noel Field in the next few years.

The administration is hoping to leverage federal Community Development Block Grants to continue renovations to the city's parks and develop the Armory into a community center as it works to come into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. High on that list is bringing football back to the downtown.

"We own much more property than we did back in the '80s. We know anywhere you play Friday night football it brings people out," said Michael Nuvallie of the Office of Community Development told the Parks & Recreation Committee on Wednesday. "Last week, the game against Drury and Greylock, I heard it was like thousands and you couldn't get a place to park. ... Four thousand people at a football game."

That vision's still some years off, said Mayor Richard Alcombright, and will depend on the city's ability to continue to win competitive grants.

Alcombright, Nuvallie and Administrative Officer Michael Canales updated the Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday in the first of what the mayor said will be regular communications on what's happening behind the scenes.

The immediate goals are the pending $580,000 Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities Grant for Noel Field and the continuing renovations at the Armory.

In June, the city received $900,000 Community Development Block Grant Funding, much of which is going to the multiphase Armory project. Nuvallie said a number of projects are or will be completed by the end of the year, including a sprinkler system and new windows.

Upcoming phases include major renovations to the office spaces on the first and second floor, development of the basement area and grading and paving the parking lot.

"We see this moving forward as a community center," said the mayor, rather than a youth center. "I can think of activities during the day that would not involve youth. We're going to be looking for some creative discussions."

He said he and his team will be meeting with Parks Commissioner Mark Vadnais, as the commission's liaison, in the coming weeks and public meetings will be set to solicit input. The uses for the Armory will have to be decided before the final renovation; for instance, if it is designated an emergency center, it will require a commercial kitchen and other equipment.

The football field that used to be at Noel Field. The city would like to see high school football moved back to the downtown.
Canales said he is reviewing how other communities operate their centers, including the Dalton Recreation Association, the Williamstown Youth Center and the Lenox Parks and Recreation Department.

"I'm looking at models in the Berkshires that we can compare to the Armory," he said, "And see what best fits North Adams."

Some $170,000 of the CBGD funds are targeted for handicapped accessibility issues at the fields, including the renovation of the older bathroom at Joe Wolfe Field, and bathrooms and pathways at Alcombright.

The federal money will also be used as a match for the state PARC money, which would be used to repair the basketball courts and possibly replace the tennis court with basketball, since the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts courts are open to the public.  Also under consideration are a walking routes around the city, a skatepark plaza/family park. Canales said accessibility issues would also have to be addressed in the smaller parks and playgrounds around the city.

If the North Adams can continue to access PARC grants, the mayor said the football piece could be done in a modular way, the same way the Armory has been renovated. The idea is to situate the football field, with soccer field on top. Later, a track could be added around it and synthetic surface installed.

The Drury Blue Devils have been playing at the football field at the "new Drury" for nearly 30 years. But fans have long complained about field's difficult location on the hill above school and lack of parking. Drury played for years at Noel Field before the school was built in the 1970s.

"You put lights and bleachers and you can immediately start playing football and soccer," said Alcombright. "Certainly no promises, but we could consider seeing Friday night football down there in two or three years."

The city will learn if it has received the PARC money in November. Nuvallie said the grant is competitive but the city has received them in the past and the state has seen value in investing in the athletic complex.

"The plan is to utiize over the next few years the Community Block Grant money for ADA compliance, partner that money with the PARC money," said the mayor. "If we get the PARC money great, we can do bigger things. If we don't, we can do ADA compliance at least."

Tags: community center,   football,   Noel Field,   youth center,   

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