PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With a brand-new school, the Pittsfield Parks Department is plotting a way to make upgrades to the Taconic High School track, football, and baseball fields.
Parks Commissioner Anthony DeMartino said the first goals would be to repair and re-stripe the track, replace fencing around both the track area and the baseball and soccer fields, and install a new backstop and dugouts at the baseball field. That would total $206,350, in which the Parks Department is looking to use Community Preservation Funding. The hope is to start with that and then continue with more projects over time.
"If you were going to go with the pie in the sky goal, it would be $2 million," DeMartino said of the overall concepts he'd like see at the park. "We sought ways to look at this, prioritize it, and hopefully make it come to fruition."
A small working group has been getting cost estimates for every thing they'd like to do and determined to focus priority on those particular upgrades. Broken down, it is estimated that repairing the track would cost $31,250, $84,700 would be the cost to replace fencing around the track, $59,150 for fencing around the baseball and soccer fields, and $31,250 for a new backstop and dugout.
"We did look at digging up the track and rellacing it but it was really cost prohibited." DeMartino said.
But there are ways to improve the track itself, which has been worn out since it was last replaced sometime in the 1980s. The repainting of the lines on the track will allow more events to take place there.
The football field, which sits in the middle of the track, has been through years of deferred maintenance and lots of usage. The plan would include another grass surface. The entrance to the track is narrow and doesn't provide an opportunity for those in wheelchairs to get through. The baseball fields sit next to a wooded area and ATVs and snowmobiles have been known to tear up the surface. DeMartino said improved access to the track area on Lakeway Drive will help address traffic jams for drop off and pick up.
"Addressing some parking and access points for busing and drop off is a high priority," he said.
In the fall, the city will cut the ribbon on the new $120.8 million high school. That project, however, doesn't include any work on the track and baseball fields. The Massachusetts School Building Authority has guidelines around what it will reimburse as part of a building project and improvements to those areas would not be eligible for state funding. The concept of re-doing those areas as part of the project was scrapped by the School Building Needs Commission.
Superintendent Jason McCandless said the project does include a paved walking path from the new school to those areas. But, that is currently the extent of any work in that direction.
"We had looked at a bridge, because there is a little brook, but the cost in the original scope of the project just wasn't doable," McCandless said.
Parks and Open Spaces Manager Jim McGrath said those fields are used often by not only sports teams from both high schools but by the community at large. In 2016, the working group began its efforts to re-envision that area of the campus. The spot of the existing school is eyed to be transformed into soccer fields.
McGrath said the Community Preservation Act is an applicable area to seek funding. The act was adopted by voters and places an additional surcharge on tax bills for specific purposes. That total is then matched somewhat by the state's Community Preservation Trust Fund.
But there is no guarantee that the Taconic project will be funded by the Community Preservation Committee. According to a letter from James Conant to McCandless, there are 13 eligible projects seeking those funds, totaling $1,147,150 worth of requests. It is estimated that there will only be $360,000 available to distribute. The funding will be competitive.
"It is used by the community. It is used by the student athletes," McGrath said. "We'll do what we can. At this point we are chasing the CPA monies."
DeMartino and McGrath said they'd also be keeping their eyes out for additional money to put toward the campus.
If the funding is secured, School Committee member William Cameron questions management of the space in the future. He said those fields were designed for academic programming but groups outside of those school programs wear the field down.
"It may be worth discussion — especially if these are going to be grass fields — they need to be rested," Cameron said.
School Committee member Daniel Elias said the fields should remain open to the public because the funds are coming from the taxpayers who may not have children in the schools but still use the school facilities.
"There has to be some kind of happy medium," Elias said, to which McCandless said there is definitely a way to do both: protect the assets while keeping it open to the community.
McGrath responded saying there has already been talks about how to manage the fields.
Meanwhile, Mayor Linda Tyer questioned the future of the facility. The new school was constructed in a way to easily expand and with the city's population declining the day may come when the Valentine Road campus houses both Pittsfield High School and Taconic. She wanted to make sure the proposal was not going to get in the way of that possibility.
And it won't. Any future expansion of the building's footprint would go south, not north. But, it would jeopardize the soccer fields that will be constructed once the new school is razed. McCandless said when that day comes, the school will be able to find other places to relocate sports programs.
"It would not be unheard up in an urban district like ours to have to relocate playing fields," McCandless said.
But the mayor was supportive of the plan.
"The timing is right. We are going to have a beautiful, state of the art new high school, and doing what we can to enhance that campus through outdoor activity is worth pursuing," Tyer said.
School Committee member Cynthia Taylor asked about restrooms. McGrath said that isn't part of the plan right now. But, the portable toilets that are currently used can be relocated somewhat.
Elias suggested opening the school's facilities up. And McCandless said that could be considered but it would require custodians.
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