Ideas wanted for remake of Northampton's Pulaski Park: First of three workshops set for Thursday

Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — A landscape architecture firm leading the first redesign of Pulaski Park since 1976 will lay out its preliminary vision for the park and solicit ideas from the public at the first of three forums starting this week.

Officials from Stephen Stimson Associates, of Cambridge, will kick off the Thursday workshop by going over the existing conditions at the park and how it’s currently used, followed by an overview of the plans it drew up five years ago as part of a design competition sponsored by the city. Pulaski Park is located between the Academy of Music and Memorial Hall downtown.

“We’re interested in getting new ideas and information from residents,” city engineer James Laurila said. “We’re really encouraging people to come to this critical meeting so we can incorporate their opinions into the design.”

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The charrette-style meeting will be held at the Northampton Senior Center, 67 Conz St., from 6 to 8 p.m. Stimson officials will incorporate ideas culled from the forum into a preliminary site plan to be unveiled at a second workshop scheduled for May 22. The firm will then present the park’s official site plan for fine tuning at a final meeting June 26.

Stimson’s preliminary drawings call for a “Great Lawn” in the center of the park, an outdoor performance structure, plazas next to entrances on Main and South streets and a walkway through the back of the park. Laurila said Stimson’s review of this design is intended to get the “creative juices” going, but he said the final plans could be much different depending on community feedback.

“Stimson represents a certain vision but it may not be a vision that everyone shares,” Laurila said.

He said the new plan will likely incorporate some lessons learned from the Department of Public Works-led redesign studies from 2007-2009. Some of those include coming up with ways to highlight the Pulaski memorials and time capsule in the park, as well as efforts to preserve as many mature trees as possible.

“These are some unique things that we want to be aware of,” Laurila said.

The city lacked money to spruce up the park for years until a recent change in Community Preservation Act funding requirements that allows grants to renovate parks, rather than fund only projects for new parks. That change breathed new life into the $1.4 million project.

The DPW, which oversees the park, landed a $194,500 CPA grant last fall that enabled it to hire Stimson to build on its previous designs. That work is expected to take place this year, with construction pegged at next year if the city can secure construction funding, Laurila said. The department is in the process of applying for a $400,000 state Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities, or PARC, and will likely apply for another CPA grant.

Additionally, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has applied for a federal grant that would pay for a series of stormwater and flood control projects along the Connecticut River. Laurila said Pulaski Park’s redesign is included in that application because the plan would use less concrete and incorporate stormwater management upgrades as part of the redesign.

“It’s quite exciting,” Laurila said. “The timing of these grants is perfect.”

Plans for the park are moving ahead before the city determines how it will develop the nearby Round House lot, despite concerns from a few residents and city councilors last year that the renovation should wait until the city has a clear picture for the Round House parcel. The city is in the middle of reviewing potential development options for that site.

Most of the council and Mayor David J. Narkewicz maintain that the park can drive future development efforts at the Round House lot, rather than the other way around.

Laurila said the park plans may examine ways to improve the link between the bike path at the Round House lot and the park, but that Stimson is focusing exclusively on the remake of the park.