SLIDESHOW New life for Northampton’s central park: Pulaski redesign wins praise from parents

Monday, July 14, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — City parents hope a planned redesign of Pulaski Park will transform the centrally situated plot of land into the downtown destination it has the potential to become.

“Walking by, it doesn’t feel like it gets a huge amount of consistent use,” said Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser, a Northampton resident and mother of four. “I’m hoping it kind of becomes more of a hub for people to enjoy.”

A horse-trading hub in the 18th century, the 1-acre park is nestled between City Hall and the Academy of Music at the heart of downtown. Using feedback from residents, Cambridge architecture firm Stephen Stimson Associates is now creating a plan that will add more green space and expand opportunities for children to play — the first redesign in four decades.

SLIDESHOW Pulaski Park planned renovations

The project’s budget is estimated to be more than $2 million, said city engineer James Laurila. It was made possible when the state recently changed the Community Preservation Act funding requirements to allow grants to renovate parks.

The city Department of Public Works, which oversees the park, has so far obtained a $194,500 CPA grant. Officials also applied for a $400,000 state Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) grant, and will likely apply for another CPA grant.

The new design would replace much of the park’s concrete sidewalks and steps with lawn, calling it “The Green.” It also calls for a bigger children’s play area, including a structure twice as big as the playscape there now, which includes three slides and a set of monkey bars.

Parents say they hope that the new play structure will have more opportunities for children of different ages.

“My son can do a lot more than my daughter,” said Katie Footit of Leeds, who was at the park Saturday with her 3-year-old son, Donay, and 18-month-old daughter, Aurora. She said the park has been a good place to let her children play while they wait for the bus at the adjacent stop.

She noted that while older children can appreciate climbing, young toddlers prefer to stick with the slides and the swing.

“The monkey bars scare the heck out of me, though,” she added.

Swansea Benham Bleicher, director of the Northampton Parents Center on Main Street, said that when she used to take her two daughters — now 13 and 17 — to Pulaski Park, she would keep an eye on a particular ledge from where it seemed they could easily fall.

“The current structure is just very small and doesn’t offer a lot compared to other structures in other major towns and cities,” she said. “For the center of town, it’s a missed opportunity.”

Werthan Buttenwieser said that while most of her children — except for her 6-year-old daughter, Saskia Baskin — are past playground age, she still looks forward to the expansion.

“I think that it could only be good for everybody — obviously for the kids, but also for families who want to use downtown but really need that safe outlet for energy release,” she said.

Seth Newton, a manager at Sam’s Pizzeria across the street, said Saturday that he also looks forward to seeing Pulaski Park become a safer place for children to play.

“It hasn’t been redone in a long time,” Newton said.

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.