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The steel structure of the 75-year-old Wahconah Park is failing and the city is planning a capital project for the historic structure.

Pittsfield Looks into the Future of Wahconah Park

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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The park's grandstand is closed for this season. The city is hoping to gain $3 million in federal funds toward repairs.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is embarking on a more than $3 million capital improvement plan for historic Wahconah Park with a restoration committee and a promise of federal funds.

The City Council voted at its June 28 meeting to establish a Wahconah Park Restoration Committee.  

The nine-member committee will assess the current condition of the 75-year-old facility, solicit public input, recommend the specifics of the repairs, and make recommendations to the city on the hiring of project agents.

In April it was announced that grandstand seating would not be available this year because the steel structure was compromised.  

Parks, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath, who will serve as staff support on the panel, said the city will have a full structural report of the park's grandstand by the time the committee meets. This will guide its work.

"That will help us understand the true condition of the grandstand and what it will take to not only bring the grandstand up to a safe condition, but I think that the scope and scale of such a project would also require the grandstand to meet all current modern building codes, Massachusetts building codes," he added.

The committee is expected to issue a preliminary report to Mayor Linda Tyer within 180 days of its appointment and a final report within 270 days.

On Tuesday, the council will be asked to appoint nine members for committee.

To aid the process, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal was able to place a $3 million earmark into the $57 billion Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies funding bill for fiscal 2023.

McGrath said the $3 million is a great start but he anticipates that additional funding sources will be needed National Register-listed property. One of the functions of the restoration committee will be to work closely with Finance Director Matthew Kerwood and Tyer to secure funding.

After a structural evaluation of the facility in late 2021 that revealed concerns, the city hired a structural engineer and architect to look at it more comprehensively. Their recommendation was for the grandstand to be closed for this season.

The uses underneath the grandstand that include the bathrooms, locker rooms, maintenance room, and concessions were OK'd for use. Because of the way the facilities were constructed, they are rather disconnected from the superstructure, warranting no risk.

To supplement seating, large bleachers were brought in.

"I think although it has a little different look and feel than in previous years, I think folks really are understanding of the situation that we're in," McGrath said.

"Folks really go to Wahconah Park to see great baseball and to experience that atmosphere, so the crowds are returning and I think the Suns are pleased with where we're at, but at the same time, I think they're anxious as are we to understand what the future of Wahconah Park is. We'll work quickly but thoughtfully with this task."

After the structural report is completed, the committee will assess whether the best option is to repair or replace the grandstand. This will be done with thoughtful consideration.

"We understand that Wahconah Park is a well-loved baseball facility and there are so many that have ideas for the future," McGrath explained.

"So we want to hear them and use all of that input to make decisions for how we proceed."

This year the Pittsfield Suns are celebrating their 10-year anniversary. They are a collegiate summer baseball team that competes in the Future Collegiate Baseball League of New England. The team is owned by the Goldklang Group, which also owns the Saint Paul Saints in Minnesota and the Charleston Riverdogs in South Carolina, and moved to Wahconah Park in 2012.

Owner Jeff Goldklang has had a home in the Pittsfield area for about 40 years and when the team was created said, "We intend to honor the tradition and history of the game in Pittsfield while adding heavy doses of smiles and laughs."

In the decade before the Suns came to Pittsfield, professional and collegiate league teams including the Defenders, Black Bears, and Dukes took up residence at Wahconah Park.

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Pittsfield Council Tables FY24 Tax Rate Asks

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council has delayed a vote on the proposed fiscal year 2024 split tax rate.

Councilors on Tuesday voted to table the administration's ask for a commercial shift of 1.75 that would result in a residential rate of $18.45 per $1,000 of valuation and a commercial rate of $39.61 per $1,000. Discussion will resume at its Dec. 12 meeting.

Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren, Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick and at-Large Councilor Karen Kalinowsky spoke against the proposal that would increase the average homeowner's bill by 8.75 percent.  

Kalinowsky said the city has a spending problem and people cannot afford it — especially seniors.

"You are driving people out of Pittsfield," she said.

Kronick, who has a history of motioning to use free cash to reduce the burden on taxpayers, would like to know how much certified free cash the city has before making a decision on the rate. He said the tax levy of $109.1 million is a direct result of the budget that was passed in June, which he unsuccessfully proposed reductions for and then opposed.

"You can't run away from the numbers," he said. "They're gonna chase you down."

Warren asked that the administration be more creative with its sources for tax relief. Last year, he argued that American Rescue Plan Act funds can be used to pay for projects that are in the budget so that the money doesn't have to be raised by property taxes.

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