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State Awards $400K For Major Renovation of Clapp Park

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state is investing $400,000 to renovate Clapp Park.
Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Friday some $6.3 million worth of grants statewide for park improvement projects. Pittsfield received the maximum amount through the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs project for a massive renovation to the West Housatonic Street Park.
The state's $400,000 is being coupled with a combined $210,000 from the Rotary Club of Pittsfield and the Buddy Pellerin Field Committee. The Rotary Club had committed $180,000 toward building a splash pad and upgrading the playground to be more handicapped accessible to celebrate its centennial year in 2019.
"That's close to our heart; our vision is to help the kids," said Rotary President Jeff Hassett. "We think Clapp Park is a great park but it could use some upgrades."
The Rotary Club voted to put the splash pad in -- after hearing how popular the one at the Common was -- some 14 months ago. They offered the project to the city and has been a partner in the grant all along. It also got a little help from Carr Hardware, which donated $5,000 toward it.
At the same time, the Buddy Pellerin Field Committee was already in the midst of making upgrades. The home field of the Pittsfield High School Generals was named after former coach George "Buddy" Pellerin last year and a citizens committee formed to raise money to improve the field. The group put in batting cages, fences, and a new scoreboard. But it has more in its sight.
Mike Matthews, who heads the committee, said the group crafted a vision for the entire playing fields in honor of Pellerin "knowing his passion and how much Buddy loved Clapp Park -- that was his home away from home for 20 years." He envisions a multi-use park for all types of sports, with great visibility for those watching, lights for night games, green grass that catches the eye, and a place the city is proud to host sports tournaments. He wants it to be one that attracts athletes from all over the region because of its quality.
"Its a very unique park. It is in a great setting for the city. It has an open landscape. It is a great place to watch a game, having kids playing on the playground, people on the street can stop by and see the score," Matthews said.
The committee began raising funds. Last year, it spent $65,000 to put in new fencing, scoreboard, new foul poles, it tore down the storage shed behind home plate to make the games more visible, upgraded the storage shed in center field -- even adding small locker room facilities -- and focused a lot more attention on the upkeep of the ball field.
In the second phase, it wants to move the backstop back, put in a new sound system, and put in bullpens. 
"That park will always remain a multi-use facility," Matthews said, envisioning football games being played under the nights, the sound system improving the outdoor movie nights, and maybe even bringing back a hockey rink.
In phase 3, the group wants to put lighting in and build dugouts.
With all of that momentum behind improving the park, the city placed a priority on the upgrades it had listed in the master plan. Parks and Open Space Manager Jim McGrath said the award announced Friday would add handicapped accessible parking in the northeast corner of the park -- about 20 spaces -- and build new pathways throughout the park, connecting the various park features.
"I think one of the reasons the project was so attractive to the commonwealth was the two city partners putting in the entirety of the local match," McGrath said. "There is no city money being spent on this project."
The Rotary Club was planning on building the splash pad -- which will have additional features that the one at the Common doesn't have -- and improve handicapped accessibility to the playground regardless. The city decided to use that project as an opportunity to get money for the handicapped parking right next to the playground -- alleviating a long walk from the current lot to the playground area.
"We're happy the city got the grant. It makes it a makes it a better project," Hassett said. "I think it is a win-win for the youth of the city."
The Rotary Club has its own vision for the park, one which somewhat mirrors the Buddy Pellerin Field Committee. They see the park as a place for the youth of all ages to enjoy.
"We think Clapp Park is a great place and now it is going to be getting a renovation," Hassett said.
The three entities started meeting and working together to align the two projects and the work. Since the ground is going to be dug up, it made sense for the conduits for the future lighting at the park be installed at the same time. And maybe, depending on the design process, the backstop can be moved now instead of in the future. 
"Clapp Park is a well-loved, multi-use recreation area for families in Pittsfield," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier. "These updates, coupled with the amazing work by the Pellerin family in honor of their dad, Coach Buddy Pellerin, will allow more people in our community to utilize and enjoy the park. When city and state government work together, we improve the lives of the individuals and families in our community."
Matthews said the grant fast tracks everything the group envisions. The grant helps get a head start on the final phases of the project while the committee continues to pursue its full vision.
"This grant is a catalyst to phase 2 and phase 3," Matthews said.
Further, Matthews said 182 people donated to the improvements thus far. With this massive influx of work at the park, people will better be able to see what the vision for the park is and that will help the Pellerine Field Committee raise even more money to reach the end goal.
"Success begets success," Matthews said.
McGrath said the next steps are to contract with Berkshire Design Group to turn the conceptual design into a construction-ready project by June. The grant is two fiscal years and the first is already halfway through. The design will then go to bid, and McGrath hopes work can begin this summer and conclude in 2019.
"We are going to get going on this project right away," McGrath said.
But McGrath said the vision the three entities have for the park isn't signed and sealed just yet. He said there will be public input during this next design phase to incorporate additional ideas the community might have for the park. 
As news circulated Friday about the state awarding the grant, all involved were elated. The state's influx of money is taking the conceptual ideas and visions the city, Buddy Pellerin Field, and the Rotary Club and making it better and real.
"I thank Gov. Baker's administration for its continuous support for improvements toward the city of Pittsfield's park system. Clapp Park is truly a four-season destination in Pittsfield, with activities that include sledding, youth athletics, and outdoor movies," said Mayor Linda Tyer.  
"This funding aligns two strong community partners, Rotary International and the Buddy Pellerin Field Committee, which will work with the city to continue the revitalization of this cherished park on features that will include the construction of a splash pad, enhancements to the playground and fields, and increased accessibility.”

Tags: parks & rec,   recreation,   state grant,   

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Pittsfield Superintendant Warns of Prohibited Toy Guns

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The district has been alerted of a concerning trend that is prohibited on school grounds: Orby or Orbeez gel guns.

The toy guns shoot gel or water beads and are said to pose a risk of physical harm and being mistaken for a real firearm. They are a violation of the Pittsfield Public School's code of conduct and could result in a suspension of 11 days or more.

"Though these may appear as simple toys, it's crucial to recognize the potential risks tied to their usage. By raising awareness, we aim to educate our community about the possible hazards associated with these items, emphasizing the importance of informed decision-making and responsible behavior," said Superintendent Joseph Curtis in a memo to the Pittsfield Public School community on Friday.

Last fall, someone used a similar gun to target cross-country students and a coach from Lee High. No one was injured in the incident. 

Given the frequency of school shootings nationwide, Curtis said schools cannot afford to accommodate anything that even remotely that resembles a firearm. The toy guns and gel beads are secured behind a locked case in Walmart on Hubbard Avenue, many indicating that they are for ages 14 and older.

"The Pittsfield Public Schools firmly maintains that Orby toy guns and any associated pellets should not be brought onto school premises, including both indoor and outdoor areas. This directive is in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, staff, and visitors within our educational environment," he wrote.

"We stress the significance of following this directive to prevent any potential hazards or disruptions that may arise from the presence of these items on school grounds. By upholding this standard, we aim to cultivate a secure and conducive learning environment for everyone within the Pittsfield community."

The superintendent listed three potential hazards of the water-bead guns in the schools:

  • Physical Injuries: The guns have the capacity to propel projectiles at considerable speeds, posing a risk of injury to the eyes, skin, and even teeth, particularly when fired in close proximity.
  • Misidentification Risks: Due to their realistic appearance, some Orby guns may be mistaken for genuine firearms. Such misidentification could result in confusion and potentially perilous encounters, especially if law enforcement or bystanders perceive them as real weapons.
  • Public Disruption: The act of firing Orby guns in public settings can be highly disruptive and alarming to others. Such behavior may instill fear and panic among individuals nearby, potentially leading to charges of disorderly conduct or harassment.
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