Pittsfield Plots Next Steps for Common, Park Projects
By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent Print | Email
Springside House has been used for storage since being closed as the Parks & Recreation headquarters in 2007. While there is no plan for the mansion, officials are aware that it needs preservation. At left, Springside in better days.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Even as activity in most city parks has gradually drawn down with the onset of winter, the season has been a busy time in planning and development for the future of Pittsfield parks.
The city looks to leverage millions in state funding while shifting local funds for improvements and new construction.
Grant funding for Phase 2 of the redevelopment of the First Street Common was awarded by the state this past week, City Hall announced Friday, with an additional $400,000 toward an ongoing redesign anticipated to total $4.6 million when completed.
"This award will enable the city to continue improving the Common – a park that has, for generations, been an essential focal point for this neighborhood and community," Mayor Daniel Bianchi said in a statement announcing the grant. "The first phase of the project restored its beauty and functionality. This next phase will contribute greatly toward sustaining it for many generations to come."
The second phase work will include full site grading, new paved pathways and electrical work for improved safety lighting. Thirty large shade trees and additional solar-compacting trash bins will be installed around the park. Construction will begin this summer, though the city has said the playground will remain open throughout the process.
"These identified Phase 2 improvements are critical in setting the base foundation for the subsequent phases that will include a new gazebo with restrooms, entry plaza area, wet play area, and a performance pavilion," says parks and open spaces manager James McGrath.
The $400,000, which comes from the Massachusetts Parklands Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities program, comes in the form of project reimbursement, and will only be awarded if the city can show the ability to appropriate the funds up front to undertake the work. Northampton, South Hadley, Agawam and Ware were also awarded PARC grants, as part of a $300 million overall spending program by the Patrick administration for park lands in Massachusetts.
Energy and Environment Secretary Richard Sullivan last May at the completion of the Common's initial design phase.
McGrath is also eyeing preparation needed to make a long-awaited bike trail expansion into the city. The Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organization has assigned $1.944 million for the extension of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail from the Berkshire Mall to Crane Avenue in fiscal 2015.
"There's construction funding which is in the TIP, and what the city needs to do is to be ready to access that funding for the time period that it's been assigned for," McGrath told iBerkshires, following a meeting with state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Ward 1 City Councilor Christine Yon in late November to discuss the project.
Design and permitting of the bike path will be up to the city, and it will need to acquire the right of way over the proposed route, currently owned by Housatonic Railroad. Mark and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, have secured an additional $500,000 in earmarked funds for obtaining that right of way.
Planning research for bike trail creation in Pittsfield began six years ago, but the railroad had first indicated a willingness to sell the desired land in 2011, prompting the city to begin pursuit of the long-hoped-for bike trail development with renewed earnest.
"We're going forward with the understanding that they're still willing to sell, and that there's $500,00 earmarked for the acquisition," said McGrath, who said the city is moving forward with a Chapter 90 project request for the design of the path, which would run about 1.5 miles.
"This is a project which has been years in the making," McGrath told iBerkshires "The extension of the bike path into Pittsfield is a significant part of our Open Space and Recreation Plan, it's acknowledged in our Master Plan, there's a lot of support for this trail, and I think we better position than at any time in the past to realize this trail within the next several years."
Though no funding or formal plan for it yet exists, McGrath says Springside House, from which he once directed the operations of the now dissolved Parks and Recreation Department, is also an important piece of the future of Pittsfield's parks, as well as of its history.
A hub of activity from the 1940s until it was closed as a parks headquarters in 2007, a majority of the building is unused except for storage. Within it are decades of local recreational lore: championship trophies, Winter Carnival spoils, maps, countless architectural and landscape drawings for park developments that did and didn't take place, and thousands of photographs of parades and park activities spanning nearly a century of community history.
"We're getting by," McGrath explained during a recent tour of the city-owned mansion. "The building's maintained, we're still coming and going here. We still care about and love the building. But it's a challenge, because it's such a huge job."
"There's movement with the restoration of the Springside House, which obviously is in sore need of it," said Parks Commission Chairman Dr. John Herman, at its Nov. 20 meeting.
"Just like the Colonial Theatre, the Springside House is an integral piece of Pittsfield’s history and should be preserved," said Christine Yon, who indicated that a desire for restoration efforts at Springside, the city's largest park, was among the biggest priorities she'd heard expressed by her Ward 1 constituents.
"They've got to want it bad enough, and they've got to advocate for it strongly," said McGrath, citing the success of the movement for a new skate park as an example.
The Parks Commission is looking at long-term financial planning to maintain the city's athletic fields.
Advocacy and increased partnership with the city may be the key for area athletic fields as well, as the commission examines more long-term planning for maintaining these facilities. This proved to be the case with a project to install new state-of-the-art lighting at Doyle Softball Complex this spring, an enhancement being funded through the combination of National Babe Ruth grant money, along with a $15,000 commitment in city money from Bianchi and $15,000 in "Bossidy Bucks."
Several major projects were undertaken over the past decade with cash from the Bossidy Bucks fund, established in 2001 from a $1 millon donation by Larry Bossidy, former GE and Honeywell executive, for the ongoing upkeep of city athletic fields. Recent requests to allocate for ongoing upkeep to these fields from the waning fund, which is now down to less than $9,000, have prompted the Parks Commission to begin examining options for continuing to maintain these play areas.
A key component of this, park officials say, is analysis of just how much of the cost and work of keeping the fields up is being absorbed already by the leagues who use them.
"We're going to try to get representatives of all the people who use these fields," said Herman. "So we can get an idea of No. 1, who they are and how to contact them and No. 2, what they actually bring to the table in terms of helping the city."
"It's incumbent that we have a very clear and concise policy that covers all things relative to field maintenance," McGrath has told the commission. The parks manager plans to meet with commissioners individually over the next few months to refine a policy to bring back the full commission in the spring.
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