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Supporters gather in City Hall on Monday to make their pitch to the Community Preservation Act Committee for their projects to be funded. On Thursday, another half-dozen projects will be presented to the committee.

Dozen Pittsfield Projects Vie For Community Preservation Funds

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Michael MacDonald has been working on the BCC turf field project for four years.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A total of $823,026 was requested of the city's new Community Preservation Act funds.
 
But, the panel overseeing the funds will only able to expend less than half that amount.
 
The Community Preservation Act Committee will have somewhere between $370,000 and $390,000 for recreation and historic preservation projects.
 
This week, proponents of the dozen applications are making their cases for their requests and recommendations are expected to go before the City Council during the budgeting process.
 
The state law was adopted at the polls in 2016. It adds a 1 percent surcharge on property tax bills with the first $100,000 of value being exempt. That money is then collected and matched somewhat by the state's Community Preservation Act trust fund. Those funds can be dispersed for affordable housing, parks and open spaces, and historic preservation.
 
The local committee then makes recommendations, which are asked to be ratified by the City Council. In total, Pittsfield will have $430,000 to spend. But, 10 percent has to be allocated to each of those categories and there were no requests for housing projects -- leaving about $370,000 for the open space and historic preservation projects. The unspent money will stay in the account and the committee also has the ability to hold onto funds to save up for larger expenses in the future.
 
After being accepted by voters in the fall of 2016, the city spent last year setting up the process and getting the legal paperwork filed. The requests being fielded now are the first set of recommendations the committee will make.
 
The largest request is for $200,000 for the restoration of Springside House, proposed by the city's Department of Community Development. Parks and Open Spaces Manager James McGrath told the committee on Monday that the money would be coupled with another $200,000, likely from the city's capital budget or grant funds, to complete the envelope of the building.
 
"It is one of the oldest houses in the city of Pittsfield," McGrath said.
 
The city has already put a large amount of funding toward the project. So far, the failing foundation was repaired in sections and drainage issues that were directing water toward the foundation, and breaking apart the mortar, was rectified. Now the large wraparound porch is being rehabilitated.
 
To complete the exterior will cost about $381,000, McGrath said, with $180,000 of that coming from CPA. Another $20,000 is requested for the needed architectural work ahead of time. That phase of the project would include trim, cornice, windows, and ultimately paining. The five-year-old effort to restore the historic mansion ties in with a number of other groups who are working toward revitalizing the entire park and increase usage.
 
A number of park improvement projects are eyed to use the CPA funding. The Friends of Pontoosuc Lake are asking for $16,500 to fix drainage issues that are leading to the beach being soggy and unwelcoming to use.
 
"There is groundwater seeping out of this hillside, seeping out into this flat area the old beach rendering it unusable," McGrath said.
 
Pontoosuc had once been a well-used beach and has one of the better views in the city. But, the water issues have made the beach mostly unusable because people can't put a blanket down and the water often leads to mosquito issues. Instead, patrons who do use it are moving closer to the boat launch. McGrath said that puts those who swim in danger because it is right in the channel for boats coming and going.
 
"We find people swimming there all the time," McGrath said. "We have a conflict between swimmers and boaters and I am convinced it is because they can't stay at the old beach area."
 
McGrath said fixing the issues should be a relatively easy project. The money would go to evaluate the issue, permit the work, and then actually remediate the water issue.
 
Mary Dickson, of Friends of Pontoosuc Lake, said three different professionals had looked at the site and agreed the work wouldn't be too extensive.
 
"It's like sitting in a swamp. I think this is a great first step in restoring this beach area that was so very popular. Right now it has been neglected. I just think it is a shame," she said.
 
Scott Graves, an abutter to the lake, said he'd be willing to contribute in-kind labor for the project.
 
Elsewhere in the city's park system, Berkshire Mountain Pickleball is looking to build courts. Right now the group plays games at Reid Middle School, where the city repainted tennis courts to accommodate the sport.
 
"It is a popular sport. It is growing, not only in Pittsfield but across the country. The Parks Department understands this trend," McGrath said.
 
The group is also asking for $16,500 to determine where to best locate the courts and complete engineering drawings. From there, the group would then look to proceed with construction -- which mightly ultimately be a future request to the CPA or could come from somewhere else.
 
"At the end of this process will we have everything we need to have a shovel-ready project," McGrath said. 
 
A portion of the work will focus on the site selection through a thorough review of the city's park's system. From there, the design will be created. McGrath said the work could be completed by October.
 
"We could get this thing under way as soon as funding is released," he said.
 
Berkshire Mountain Pickleball has grown from just seven members to 75 and continues to grow. Ultimately, the courts could become a destination for players outside of the area and young children are learning the sport in schools. 
 
"I would love to see Pittsfield as the pickleball capital of Western Massachusetts," McGrath said.
 
Sports is a commonality among several of the requests for recreation funds the committee heard on Monday. The Berkshire Community College Foundation is asking for $75,000 for its multisport turf field project. 
 

Hands shot up behind Parks and Open Spaces  Manager Jim McGrath when the committee asked who in attendance was there to support the proposal for pickleball courts.
"We are the only county in the commonwealth without something like this," said Michael MacDonald, who serves on a committee pushing for the turf field.
 
The project has been on the radar for four years now as the organizers see the multimillion project as one that will significantly boost the facilities for soccer, lacrosse, football, and youth sports. 
 
"Having the opportunity of having a field of this magnitude will have a huge impact," said Sheriff Thomas Bowler, who is a supporter of the project.
 
The sporting facility would allow for high school sports teams to play on a significantly upgraded field. The field could see a lot of use without breaking down, unlike traditional grass fields. And it would allow for the city to host tournaments, attracting teams from elsewhere.
 
BCC Foundation Executive Director Craig Smith said it would also help the college with recruiting. He said when the youth sports are there, the children can see the campus and have an understanding that they could attend there in the future.
 
The money would be put toward access for the disabled, fencing around the facility, and lighting the walkways.
 
Meanwhile, at Clapp Park, the Buddy Pellerin Field Committee is asking for $90,290 to continue its efforts to revamp the baseball field. After having the home of the PHS Generals renamed after the late coach, a group of committee members has been making upgrades to the field.
 
The committee put in a scoreboard, new batting cages, a storage facility, and bought a removable outfield fence for the games.
 
"Those improvements are absolutely appreciated and part of what we are trying to do down there," McGrath said.
 
The Buddy Pellerin Field Committee has also teamed up with the Rotary Club to match a state grant for improvements to the entire park. That $400,000 grant is looking to build a new splash pad, upgrade the playground, relocate the basketball court, create a new small parking lot, and repair the track.
 
For the field itself, the group of volunteers is looking to completely renovate the infield including the player bench areas, on deck circles, coach's box, pitching mount, homeplace, anchors for the bases and resodding. It is also eyed to replace and move the backstop and purchase a sound system.
 
Mike Matthews praised the city's legacy of baseball, highlighting the numerous state and Western Massachusetts titles the city has won. He said the end goal will be to install lighting. If the CPA funds can be used for the field itself, then it is more likely private funders will donate for the lights.
 
Meanwhile, the baseball field at Taconic High School is eyed for another CPA request. The School Department has filed an application for $180,860 to improve access and dropoff area on Lakeway Drive, to fence in the fields to protect from off-road vehicles causing damage, repairing and repainting the track, fixing the gates, and installing a new backstop and dugouts.
 
Those fields to the north of the high school fall outside of the scope of the $120.8 million new building. 
 
"It was disheartening and a bit worrisome that we'd be opening a $120 million school and have fields that are unusable at this point," said Parks Commissioner Anthony DiMartino, who has been a part of developing the plan.
 
McGrath said he has been working with Skanska USA, which is overseeing the building project, about the plan and the contractors on site, are willing to donate some $23,800 worth of labor to create dugouts.
 
DiMartino said the "pie in the sky" project he'd like to see there would cost $2 million. But, instead, the group working on the concept is looking to do the work piecemeal starting with the fencing to secure any improvements. The track is another high priority as it is cracking and breaking apart.
 
Later in the week, the CPA committee will hear another six presentations. Berkshire Environmental Action Team is seeking $5,000 for the removal of invasive plants at Burbank Park; Berkshire County Historical Society is seeking $8,000 to repair a stone wall; the Berkshire Athenaeum is seeking $12,765 to preserve Herman Melville artifacts; the Berkshire Theatre Group is looking for $50,000 to redevelop the Thaddeus Clapp House for short-term housing; and the Whitney Center for the Arts is looking to replace a slate roof.
 
Following the presentations, the CPA committee members will score them. City Planner CJ Hoss will then organize those scores and present back to the committee at the end of the month. The group could decide immediately on which projects to fund or take a meeting or two to mull it over. Hoss said he would like to get the committee's recommendation to the City Council in May to be coupled with the budget deliberations.

Tags: CPA,   historic preservation,   public parks,   

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