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The second phase that includes renovating the bathrooms, basketball courts and a gazebo is expected to begin during the summer.

Pittsfield, State Celebrate Reopening of First St. Common

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan toured the new park with the city's Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer, left, and talked with residents on the way.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City and state officials marked the opening of the First Street Common on Wednesday to mark the completion of the first phase of a $4.6 million renovation.

The park had fallen into disrepair and the city secured a state grant to move the skate park from the common to East Street and then renovate the First Street park.

The first phase, costing $1.7 million, included the installation of a new playground and entry way.

The next phase will add a gazebo, bathrooms, basketball courts and additional walkway work. Pittsfield contributed about $215,000 on the first phase but has not made a financial commitment to the final two phases yet.

"At the end of the day, these parks and open spaces are in the hearts of the communities and when you ask people why they live in the city they live in or the commonwealth that they do, they will start to talk about the quality of life," Richard Sullivan, secretary of the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said. "I can think of no smarter investment in our cities."

Urban parks are a priority for Gov. Deval Patrick, who has increased funding to preserve them, he said, adding that the state has been leveraging grant funding with private and public funds to preserve more than 88,000 acres already.

"A particular focus of the governor has been the issue of urban parks and, in particular, in gateway cities here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and it has been a priority to have a redeveloped park in every one of those gateway cities. So we are extremely pleased to be here in Pittsfield today celebrating phase one and a $1.7 million investment the commonwealth has done," Sullivan said.

Pittsfield is one of 24 "gateway cities" as designated by the state. This project was possible through the state's Gateway Cities Park program that, as of last year, has invested nearly $10 million into urban parks.

The rejuvenated downtown park will "resume its former place as the most important park in Pittsfield," Mayor Daniel Bianchi said.

Above: State Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Paul Mark jointly praised the city's efforts in securing the funding. Below: The city's Parks and Open Space Manager James McGrath shows Sullivan and Ruffer the new playground.
"The common has really been the heart of Pittsfield for many, many years," Bianchi said.

The park had become an eyesore of sorts but used to be a hub of activity including ice skating, downtown events and athletics. The city's parks and recreation department already has plans to bring life back to it.

Park Commission Chairman John Herman said he envisions the park to be similar to the Boston Common with thousands of people using it on a weekend. There is a demand for usable park space, he said.

"We have a shrinking population but we have the good fortune of having not enough parks for all of the people who want to use them," Herman said.

Multiple city officials worked on securing the funding — including the Parks Commission, Community Development, Parks and Recreation, City Council and the state delegation. Representatives from all those groups attended the ceremony.

"The reason our project went up on the priority list is because we are ready to do it. While other communities are still trying to figure it out, our team here has put the project together already," state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, said. "Officially this park may be open but a few weeks ago the people of Pittsfield tore down the fences and started being here. They love it here."

Farley-Bouvier was joined by state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru.

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Toy Library Installed at Onota Lake

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Feel free to use or leave a toy at Onota Lake's newest infrastructure meant to foster community and benefit kids.

Burbank Park now has a toy library thanks to Wahconah Regional High School senior Alexandra Bills. Located along the wall at the beach area, the green and blue structure features two shelves with sand toys that can be used to enhance children's visits.

The Parks Commission supported Bills' proposal in February as part of her National Honors Society individual service project and it was installed this month. Measuring about 4 feet wide and 5.8 feet tall, it was built by the student and her father with donated materials from a local lumber company.

Friends and family members provided toys to fill the library such as pails, shovels, Frisbees, and trucks.

"I wanted to create a toy library like the other examples in Berkshire County from the sled library to the book libraries," she told the commission in February.

"But I wanted to make it toys for Onota Lake because a lot of kids forget their toys or some kids can't afford toys."

Bills lives nearby and will check on the library weekly — if not daily — to ensure the operation is running smoothly.  A sign reading "Borrow-Play-Return" asks community members to clean up after themselves after using the toys.

It was built to accommodate children's heights and will be stored during the winter season.

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