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State awards more than $1 million in grants to Northampton and Amherst, including money for Pulaski Park



Thursday, October 30, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — The city’s long-desired plan to redesign and expand Pulaski Park into a downtown hub of activity for residents of all ages received a huge financial boost this week thanks to a $400,000 grant from the state.

The grant was part of more than $2.6 million awarded by the state’s Energy and Environmental Affairs agency on Monday to nine communities in western Massachusetts for investments in parks, open space and recreation improvements. More than $1 million went to Northampton and Amherst.

“We’re very excited about this grant for Pulaski Park, which is one of my top priorities,” Mayor David J. Narkewicz said.

The state awarded the money as part of three separate grant programs: the Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations, Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity, and Drinking Water Supply Protection.

In addition to the $400,000 PARC grant for Pulaski Park, Northampton also received a LAND grant of $171,088 to buy a 50-acre site in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area. The land is being called the ecological heart of the Saw Mill Hills in the western part of the city because of its ecological importance, said Wayne Feiden, director of the city’s Office of Planning and Sustainability.

“It contains one of the highest, if not the highest, elevation streams in the Saw Mill Hills,” Feiden said in an email. “Since much life follows streams, we knew it was a key ecological find.”

The city intends to buy the land off Sylvester Road sometime next year for $264,000 from Donald and Mary Reutener. In addition to the state grant, the purchase will likely be made with Community Preservation Act funds.

Amherst received two grants totaling more than $500,000 that will be used to protect the watershed of the Atkins Reservoir, which supplies about one-third of residents with drinking water, and complete full town control over the Owens Pond area of the Wentworth Farm Conservation Area.

The $256,125 Drinking Water Supply Protection grant will be used to protect two parcels from development that surround Atkins Reservoir. Last spring, Town Meeting agreed to spend $120,000 from the water fund to buy a 1.15-acre building lot on Overlook Drive and $380,000 from the water fund to buy 21.5 acres, three building lots and back land off Sumner Mountain Road in Shutesbury.

Amherst Town Manager John Musante said the state grant allows the town to continue its multi-decade-long stewardship of the land that surrounds Atkins.

The $235,655 LAND grant will give the town the money to complete ownership of Owens Pond, a popular place for people to walk, and provides Amherst passive frontage on Gulf Pond.

Pulaski Park plans

Plans for Pulaski Park are expected to be discussed at Wednesday’s Community Preservation Committee meeting when Narkewicz and officials from the Department of Public Works and architects from Stephen Stimson Associates make a pitch for a $1.529 million Community Preservation Act grant that would fund a majority of the $2.32 million project.

Plans call for the 1.1-acre park in the heart of downtown between the Academy of Music and Memorial Hall to get more green space, an expanded playground area and a permanent stage. Plans also call for the expansion of the park by construction of an “overlook” into the Round House parking lot.

The overlook added about $400,000 to the total cost of the project, but was a feature that residents at three public forums earlier this year overwhelmingly supported, according to a CPA application submitted by the Board of Public Works, which oversees the park.

Plans in June called for the overlook to include a switchback ramp at the back of the park to allow cyclists and pedestrians to travel between the park and the Round House lot below. The ramp would be constructed at a gradual incline, replacing a steep set of stone stairs. At the bottom of the ramp would be a lawn area with benches. Trees would be planted throughout the Round House parking lot and a walkway would be constructed through the lot and connect to the rail trail on the opposite side.

The park’s signature feature is a large green area in the center called “The Green” which would replace most of the concrete sidewalks and steps now in the middle of the park. The project also includes a nature play area that would be twice as big as an existing small play structure for children.

Other features include a redesigned entrance off Main Street called “Pulaski Plaza” that would feature a seating area with tables and chairs surrounded by trees, a reconfigured bus stop, and a small water fountain connected to a water garden that would run vertically through the park. The water garden would include plantings and serve to treat stormwater from the park.

Construction would begin in January and take about two years to complete.

Staff Writer Scott Merzbach contributed to this report. Chad Cain can be reached at ccain@gazettenet.com.