Wahconah Park Demo Not Off the Field

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Wahconah Park's historic nature will likely not impede replacing the structure, if needed.

 The Wahconah Park Restoration Committee was told last week that the Massachusetts Historic Commission said "razing and rebuilding" park is not out of question. The park is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"There's certainly more conversation but it's not out of the realm of possibility that Mass Historic would work with us on an option, which would either repair or raze and rebuild," said Parks, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath, adding that it would likely be expected that the city maintain historical aspects of the park.

Last month, the committee had its meeting on-site at the park to see the extent of the work ahead of them.  Members pondered whether its historic designation would limit possibilities for renovating the park and McGrath had not yet been able to reach the state's Historical Commission.

The 18-acre park dates to 1892 (the first game was played Aug. 9 that year) and the shed grandstand from 1950. Numerous baseball luminaries from Casey Stengel to Lou Gehrig to Carlton Fisk to Jeff Reardon played at Wahconah, as well as Jim Thorpe, the Boston Red Sox and African American pro teams.
The 2,000-seat 1950 grandstand was designed by architects Joseph McArthur Vance and Bradley & Gass, local firms responsible for a number of significant structures including the old Berkshire County Savings Bank building and the original Wahconah Regional High School.
The facility has had a number of additions and upgrades over the years, including updates in 1978 and 1997. The seating has increased to more than 3,000. The original cost was $114,345.80; the reconstruction is expected to run more than $10 million.

Because of the cost, an owner’s project manager, or OPM, will oversee the process of either repairing or rebuilding Wahconah Park, which remains undecided.

The committee approved a draft request for services to hire an OPM and requested a few changes to the proposed contract.

Members suggested that the chosen bidder have baseball or outdoor stadium-specific experience and have worked on projects of $10 million or more.

This role acts on behalf of the owner in the planning, design, construction, commissioning, and closeout phases of a project and can be hired for any duration. 

"The owner's project manager pathway is actually a requirement of state law because of the anticipated cost for the construction of what we're looking at," McGrath explained.

"Whether it's a repair option or a replacement option."

McGrath pointed out that Taconic High School used an OPM for its $120 million rebuild that was completed in 2018 and said the city was well served by that structure.

"This is a complex project which has a lot of parts, historical to environmental and permitting, construction, and community input," he said.  "There's a lot going on."

A small committee will evaluate proposals for the park and make a recommendation on the hire. It was clarified that the restoration committee can review proposals as well but a separate panel will advise the hiring of the OPM.

There is not yet a budget identified for the position.

The committee was also presented with a flooding mitigation report from the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center, which was paid for by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

It is recommended that wetland restoration is done in and around the facility and that the parking area is raised with permeable pavement to include stormwater storage underneath.

McGrath said once concept designs are made, the next level of investigation is a study to comprehensively understand flood waters at the park.

The committee is going to see how many proposals they get over the next few weeks and how quickly an evaluation committee can be formed to hire the OPM before scheduling its next meeting.

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Pittsfield Lights Permanent, Young Christmas Tree

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Linda Tyer welcomes the crowd to her last tree lighting as mayor. She leaves office in January. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city's permanent Christmas tree was lit for the holidays for the first time on Friday. Though the young tree is currently 9 feet tall, it is expected grow up to 50 feet in time.

"Look at our petite sweet little Christmas tree. I know it's a surprise to all of you to see that we have planted a tree in Park Square instead of our past tradition of having a big tree donated," Mayor Linda Tyer said.

"We really felt strongly that this was the time for us to preserve our natural forests by not cutting down trees and planting a tree here in Park Square that will grow and grow and grow, and I encourage moms and dads and grandparents and caregivers to get a photo with your kids next to this tree every year so you can watch them and the tree grow."

The rain didn't stop the tree-lighting ceremony on Friday. Families gathered with umbrellas around the conifer that was planted in October as they waited for Santa and Mrs. Claus to arrive.

"Here comes Santa Claus," Recreation and Special Events Coordinator Maddy Brown said as the Pittsfield High School chorus sang "Winter Wonderland."

The jolly duo pulled up on firetrucks to a long line of children waiting to recite their Christmas lists.

The tree was lit before the guests arrived, as the city felt due to its small stature it would be more festive to have it that way. Additionally, the shrubs around the fountain were illuminated.

Last year, the tree lighting ceremony returned in person after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. Over the years, it has become harder for the city to locate a tree and transport it for installation.

This type of fir has a silver blue color, is more desirable under urban conditions, and has the least pest problems of many evergreens, Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said. It will grow about 10 inches per year and will typically reach 30-50 feet tall and 15-25 feet wide when mature.

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