A team from the Payette architectural firm checking out the area around Brayton, including the trees.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The steep incline in front of Brayton School would seem an obstacle but Parke McDowell sees it as an opportunity.
"Something like this really should be fun," he said as the team from Payette finished up a tour of the Brayton School site on Saturday. "The broader goal is to craft an environment for people to live in."
The members of the Boston architectural firm were there to get an idea of how to revitalize a path leading from the Brayon Hill Apartments to the school and attached Northern Berkshire Family YMCA. But they were soon engaged in looking at all the possibilities for getting to and from the playground below the school.
The Payette team will be providing design ideas and seeking input at a charette planned for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 21, in the city. It's part of the firm's first annual day of service to support local organizations in making an impact on their neighborhoods. The Brayton Elementary School Corridor Project was one of four projects selected for this first event and the only one selected outside the greater Boston area.
The pathway project will connect with several other initiatives, including the revamping of the Brayton playground. The city learned this week that it will receive a $318,500 Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant to overhaul the park and athletic field.
The playground project in its entirety is slated to cost $455,000 with the balance coming from the annual Community Development Block Grant funds. The park renovation is part of an ongoing effort to upgrade and modernize the city's recreational areas; prior projects including the skate park and splash pad at Noel Field Athletic Complex and new play equipment at Kemp Park and Windsor Lake.
"Creating opportunities for outdoor recreation and improving recreational amenities is a priority within the city's Vision 2030 comprehensive plan, and a great way to build a sense of community and civic pride," Mayor Thomas Bernard said in the release announcing the grant. "I'm grateful to the Baker-Polito administration for providing the funding for this PARC grant, which will provide an improved park for neighborhood residents, students at Brayton Elementary School, and users of the Northern Berkshire YMCA."
The pathway from Brayton Hill to Brayton School was made by the many feet of children cutting through a wooded area. A noncompliant crosswalk leads the children across Brickyard Court to the steep driveway and into the parking lot of the YMCA, which is attached to Brayton School.
Administrative Officer Michael Canales said the city is considering moving the driveway farther south and up the hill to create a more level entrance into the parking lot — and away from where children are trying to cross to school.
The entrance itself isn't very safe for drivers either because two cars can't pass each other. Canales said he's seen drivers pulling up on the grass or stopped trying to figure out who goes first.
Moving the driveway would entail more drainage because the parking lot currently drains into a depression at that spot.
The group also walked around the Brayton playground and discussed some of the changes being planned, such as the addition of a walking track and improved accessibility.
The North Adams Public Schools, the city, and the local Mass in Motion coordinator are currently applying for a Safe Routes to Schools Infrastructure grant through the state Department of Transportation. Other efforts include Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's tree-planting endeavor as well as Payette.
Some grants, such as the PARCC and tree-planting, have been received while continued work and design will hopefully open up other grant opportunities. The path project design, for example, may including leveling, surfacing, installation of lighting, tree planting, sculpture installations, new fencing, benches and improved line of sight. Having the design in hand will provide the city and School Department with documents for applying for future funds to bring the project to fruition.
"There are a whole bunch of moving pieces that are coalescing because of these people," said McDowell. Payette hopes to be a contributor to that process.
The award-winning architectural firm specializes in sustainable designs for medical and science structures, such as Amherst College's new science center, Tufts University's Science and Engineering Complex and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's Cell Manipulation Core Facility.
The inaugural day of service is part of the 86-year-old firm's commitment to community engagement that in the past has included volunteering for public events and enrichment programs.