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A conceptual design of the new south portion of Linear Park.
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The area where a new playground and open space will be created at Linear Park.

Williamstown Group Fund-Raising to Renovate Park, Playground

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Dead trees are removed at Linear Park in Williamstown last week.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The potential loss of a popular playground has become an opportunity to rehabilitate the south end of the town's Linear Park thanks to the work of a trio of volunteers and one anonymous donor.
Now those volunteers are revving up a fund-raising campaign to help maximize the park's potential and ensure recreational opportunities for youngsters for years to come.
Last year, a safety inspection at the park turned up deficiencies in its outdated and aging play equipment, forcing the town to decide to remove the play structures.
Rather than leave a vacant play area — actually part of a single park that continues across Main Street and north to near the Hoosic River — Rita Coppola-Wallace, Amy Jeschawitz and Julie Sniezek worked with the town to see how that portion of Linear Park could be reimagined.
This spring, thanks to the generosity of Pittsfield's J H Maxymillian Inc., the town-owned park has been regraded and the parking area has been moved closer to the Water Street entrance and away from the play area.
And this summer, a $50,000 anonymous donation will fund the addition of a new state-of-the-art "fall zone" and new play equipment, Jeschawitz said last week.
"[After the inspection last fall], we were going to lose the playground, which gets a lot more use than what people may think," Jeschawitz said. "It gets use from young families, the [Williamstown Community] Preschool, people who live and work in the area can go over and have their lunch. The [Green] River is right there.
"There was a push to see what could be done."
And that effort got a major push from the unnamed donor who kicked off the fund-raising effort.
Soon, the Friends of Linear Park will be reaching out to the community through a direct mail campaign to seek donations with a goal of matching the $50,000.
"Playgrounds are different than when you and I went to school," Jeschawitz said. "The codes have changed. The safety regulations are stricter. It runs from a see-saw costing $2,000 to the fall zone, just to put that in, is like $30,000."
The organizers also envision a small pavilion at the south end of the playground to give caregivers a spot to sit and watch children play and to provide shelter from passing showers.
"We're looking to still keep this park filled with individual pieces of equipment," Jeschawitz said. "We don't want to do the big, one-piece thing. Individual pieces are less expensive, and the elementary school has the big one-piece thing. Broad Brook [Park] has the big, one-piece thing. It's nicer to have something different at this park."
The play area, which will be slightly elevated from the new parking area, will include both the fall zone and playground equipment and a large field for free play. The whole area of Linear Park included in the project is about 3.5 acres, according to Town Manager Jason Hoch.
Jeschawitz said organizers hope to have the park seeded and some playground equipment in place by the end of the summer. They anticipate it will be a phased approach as money is raised to buy additional equipment and the biggest item on their wish list, the pavilion, has an estimated cost of about $20,000.
"We'd love to complete the whole thing this year, but we will get some of the equipment in this summer," she said. "How much equipment goes in really depends on how much, donation-wise, we can do.
"Any amount for a donation is fine, whether it's $5 or $100. But if there are people out there who want to select and donate a specific piece of equipment or if someone wants to donate the pavilion, we'll name it after them."
Donations to the park's renovation can be sent to: Friends of Linear Park, c/o Community Chest, PO Box 204, Williamstown, MA 01267. Make checks payable to "Friends of Linear Park." Donations are tax deductible.

Tags: fundraising,   playgrounds,   public parks,   

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Williamstown Volunteer of the Year Speaks for the Voiceless

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Andi Bryant was presented the annual Community Service Award. 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Inclusion was a big topic at Thursday's annual town meeting — and not just because of arguments about the inclusivity of the Progress Pride flag.
The winner of this year's Scarborough-Salomon-Flynt Community Service Award had some thoughts about how exclusive the town has been and is.
"I want to talk about the financially downtrodden, the poor folk, the deprived, the indigent, the impoverished, the lower class," Andi Bryant said at the outset of the meeting. "I owe it to my mother to say something — a woman who taught me it was possible to make a meal out of almost nothing.
"I owe it to my dad to say something, a man who loved this town more than anyone I ever knew. A man who knew everyone, but almost no one knew what it was like for him. As he himself said, 'He didn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.' "
Bryant was recognized by the Scarborough-Salomon-Flynt Committee as the organizer and manager of Remedy Hall, a new non-profit dedicated to providing daily necessities — everything from wheelchairs to plates to toothpaste — for those in need.
She started the non-profit in space at First Congregational Church where people can come and receive items, no questions asked, and learn about other services that are available in the community.
She told the town meeting members that people in difficult financial situations do, in fact, exist in Williamstown, despite the perceptions of many in and out of the town.
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