Wahconah Park Restoration Committee Begins Work
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Wahconah Park Restoration Committee met for the first time on Thursday, beginning the process of renovating and redesign of the historic facility.
The panel, which was created by the City Council last month, contains nine members who will assess the current condition of the park, solicit public input, recommend the specifics of the repairs, and make recommendations to the city on the hiring of project agents.
It is expected to issue a preliminary report to Mayor Linda Tyer within 180 days of its appointment and a final report within 270 days.
"This is a moment in time right now for us to create a landmark destination that honors Pittsfield's long and happy relationship with baseball," Tyer said.
Members reviewed a structural study for repairs that put an approximately $9.3 million price tag on just the building's renovation. This would restore it to a safe condition and bring it up to code.
Major issues with the over 70-year-old grandstand include deteriorating support beams, missing bolts, and asbestos materials in the siding and roof.
A new water and sewer line was also recommended.
"My guess is you can probably say 50 percent of this structural steel in the building, is my guess but yes, the whole grandstand wood decking, it's all gonna go, all the siding, all the roofing," architect John Barry said, adding that there are other aspects that can be reused such as the lighting system, some kitchen equipment, a few furnaces, and a sewage protective system.
After a structural evaluation in late 2021 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 the 2022 season.
The facilities underneath the grandstand including the bathrooms, locker rooms, maintenance room, and concessions were OK'd for use. Because of the way the building was constructed, they are rather disconnected from the superstructure, warranting no risk.
To supplement seating, large bleachers were brought in.
The city knew this would be a big undertaking, which led to the creation of the committee. Parks, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath is the lead of the panel and several other city employees provide support.
"Wahconah Park is sort of our iconic keystone park and it's one that I am really pleased that we're spending some focus time and energy around the planning for," he said.
"It's critical to this community's identity and something to be cherished. There's a lot of history, a lot of story at this place and it's time for us to celebrate it and reimagine what Wahconah Park can be."
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.
The city's fiscal year 2023 budget also allocated $2 million for the project.
Members of the committee agreed that they would like to look into addressing the flooding that frequently occurs at Wahconah Park. Barry explained that when you are dealing with a floodplain, where the facility is located, you have to find a storage area for the water so that it doesn't go downstream and flood another property.
Commissioner of Public Services and utilities Ricardo Morales said the city has had preliminary plans to address the flooding since 2009 by repairing the culvert and structure system underneath the parking lot.
The grandstand sits on 8 acres of land that includes a park area to the left of the parking lot. It was recommended that the committee hire a consultant to provide a holistic view of the entire property in the redesign.
Tyer offered her vision for the park at the beginning of the meeting.
"When I think about the opportunity for Wahconah Park, I'm thinking about the downtown corridor, so we have at one end, the Colonial Theatre, which is an anchor institution, an arts and culture organization, Barrington Stage right in the heart of downtown and now with a successful restoration of Wahconah Park, we'll have an anchor at the north end, connecting that experience of the downtown corridor for people who live in our city and visit our city," she said.
"And Wahconah Park, while it may not be an arts and culture organization, it's certainly an outdoor event facility and it's something that's enjoyed by people of all ages and all abilities and all interests so I really encourage the committee as you start this work to take a really wide lens on what are the possibilities at Wahconah Park."
Tyer asked them to think about what will provide the best fan experience, how to provide decent and modern facilities, some other community events that could be held there, how to improve the playing field itself, how to address the parking lot and flooding, and how to create an exhibit space for historical baseball items.
Councilor at Large Earl Persip III was elected as the chair of the panel. The next order of business will be to have a site visit and review the request for proposals (RFP) for the project.
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