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The Parks Commission reviewed design progress for the Common on First Street.

Plans Take Shape for Pittsfield Common Completion

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The completed Pittsfield Common will boast such new features as spray ground, a gazebo, bathrooms, and a pavilion for performances, though the specifics of these structures are still being determined.
 Architects met with the city's parks commissioners on Tuesday to get input on several aspects of design plans for implementing the final two phases of redevelopment for the city's downtown park, with construction slated to begin this spring.
"We feel like we're moving forward with a tremendous opportunity here at the Common," said James McGrath, the city's parks and open spaces manager said of the renovations, which are now expected to be finished a year ahead of schedule. That's thanks to a $1.7 million allocation announced by Gov. Deval Patrick last fall that will allow these two phases to be undertaken concurrently. This will conclude an overhaul begun in 2011, totaling $4.6 million in state grants and matching city funds. 
Overhaul of the park continues to follow a master plan developed several years ago from three months of public input, with some minor changes, but building architect Steve Barry and landscape architect Jeff Fassler looked to the Parks Commission for guidance on the particulars of the amenities to be installed this year.
Bathroom issues occupied by far the largest portion of the planning meeting, with extensive discussion of location, security, and parameters for usage receiving extensive consideration from the commission. In the original plans, restroom facilities were to be attached to a gazebo near the relocated basketball court, but a separate structure proved desirable and commissioners debated advantages of locating this closer to the park's First Street frontage against concerns this might impinge upon the Common's aesthetic as well as other practical problems.
"I don't think it will be good for the appearance of the park to have a restroom at the very front, unless we can maybe do something with some shrubbery, or something of that nature," said Parks Commission Chairman Dr. John Herman.
Barry also stressed the importance of evaluating what the anticipated usage and crowd sizes at the refurbished park would be, as that would inform what the size and capacity of the facility. Currently, the preferred design mirrors that of the small concrete structure found at Pontoosuc Lake.
"I think functionality is the starting point to really come to grips with," said Barry.
McGrath said the previous restroom facilities in the now-demolished warming house at the Common were simple two-stall rooms that were only open to the public during events and special occasions. He asked the commission to evaluate whether the new bathrooms would be available to the public on this basis or in a manner similar to those at Pontoosuc and Onota's Burbank Park, which are open throughout daytime hours and lock on a remote electronic timer.
"I can foresee that the restrooms at the Common are going to see a lot of use, and maybe a lot of misuse that's going to increase our maintenance," McGrath told the commission. "On the flip side, if there's restrooms at the Common and they're not available all the time there may be some criticism directed toward the city."
"My thought is that they should certainly be there available during the day," said Commissioner Simon Muil, who felt the scale of events that would occur at the park would not require a greater capacity. "I don't think they need to be three or four stalls each, as that's going to make the building bigger and mess up the park aesthetic."
The architects indicated that they will also meet with the building commissioner for more input as they establish design options for the facility. 
With regards to the more recreational structures, the architects sought clarification from the commission on their vision for designing the park's gazebo and performance pavilion. Both structures, they indicated, would be made as open as possible to avoid creating invisible areas that could lead to misuse.

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Aesthetically, Fassler suggested it could be possible to install a gazebo that would invoke the appearance of the original gazebo located at the Common as well as offer some continuity of style with the Central Annex apartment complex, the historic former school building that visually dominates the square.  It's size and specifications, Barry said, would follow from what types of activities it would be used for and how many people would need to be accommodated.
The commission suggested a 15 to 25 person capacity for the gazebo, which would allow for more intimate gatherings such as picnics and small meetings as well as some performance possibilities, while the planned performance pavilion would feature larger bands and events such as the summer outdoor movie nights hosted by the city.
"Keep it simple" was the advice of commissioners of one of the most eagerly anticipated new amenities to the park, a new spray pool, reminiscent of those at Boston Common and Northampton's Look Park, adjacent to the new playground installed in Phase 1. This will consist of a concrete basin with sprinklers for children to run through and cool off in the summer months, a popular kind of recreation site in many larger metropolitan areas.
Commissioner Anthony DiMartino suggested that since this feature will only be in use during the summer months, construction should perhaps occupy a smaller amount of the overall project budget than those aspects of the park which may be used throughout the year.
"We're going to come back with some ideas, I think this is a really good starting point," said Director of Community Development Douglas Clark. "I'm just really excited about this, and grateful that we're getting the grant money to do it all at once."
"It's going to be a great central park," concluded Herman.
The architects will now make updates to the Common master plan over the coming month with input from the Commission and city staff, and submit more completed stages of design over the rest of the winter and early Spring, with a finished construction design to be ready to go out for bidding in mid April, with a busy construction timetable anticipated over the Spring through Fall of this year. 

Tags: parks & rec,   parks commission,   Pittsfield Common,   

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