Amherst postpones park renovation

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Sunday, April 15, 2018

AMHERST — Town officials are postponing for a year long-awaited projects to renovate the North Common in front of Town Hall and rebuild the adjacent Main Street parking lot.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said Wednesday that the two projects, which had been slated to get underway this spring, will instead be delayed.

“The amended schedule calls for it to be a spring 2019 construction season project,” Ziomek said.

This will give the town more time to plan and get input from the community about changes to the prominent sites.

Ziomek said Weston & Sampson engineering of Rocky Hill, Connecticut has been hired for the North Common, located between the Spring and Main street parking lots, and will be at a meeting with the community in mid to late May.

Amherst has $540,000 in Community Preservation Act money to redo the North Common.

Previous conceptual designs created by staff at the Department of Public Works show the addition of new seating areas and eliminating the washouts and tripping hazards on the site that is known for the Merry Maple celebration, the Veterans Day ceremony and the weekly peace vigil. These designs will be reviewed, and both the Historical Commission and Leisure Services and Supplemental Education department will be involved.

For the Amherst Business Improvement District, the delay means another year to refine the plans and possibly include a plaza at the North Common, said Executive Director Sarah la Cour.

“We’re looking for a formal plaza-type experience to be worked into it,” la Cour said.

She said the plaza would be unlike any existing in the center of town and would be a place where tables and chairs would be set out and periodic live music would be performed.

At the same time, the town will improve the Main Street parking lot for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, using around $310,000 from the transportation fund.

Groff Park

A project that remains on track is improvements to Groff Park, with the town this week receiving a $300,000 National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Grant that will be added to the $1.05 million already appropriated for work that will commence after the summer season.

The grant was announced Wednesday by Gov. Charlie Baker and is administered by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. Amherst was one of just one of seven communities, and the only one Western Massachusetts, to receive the money.

The improvements there include the town’s first spray park, as well as constructing a new playground and two pavilions, and various changes that will make the park compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Our hope is much of this money will go to supplement CPA funds already allocated,” Ziomek said.

Annual Town Meeting will also have to approve an article that will dedicate the entire 12-acre parcel for recreation purposes, which Ziomek said is a common action the federal government requires when providing grants.

On April 24 at 7 p.m. at Crocker Farm School, Berkshire Design Group, including principal Peter Wells and landscape architect Michael Liu, will lead a community meeting on the Groff Park work.

“The main purpose of the meeting is to gather input and give people some ideas for the spraypark, playground and pavilions,” Ziomek said.

He said the goal is to have most of the park work done “before the snow flies” and operational by spring 2019.

Another project to build a multi-use path along East Hadley Road, which will improve access to Groff Park and West Street, is expected to commence this summer.

The Downtown Recreation Working Group, meanwhile, will meet May 8 at 7 p.m. to begin examining comprehensive designs for changes to Community Field on Triangle Street and the playing fields at the Amherst Regional Middle School and Wildwood School, including space at the Hawthorne Meadow property.

Though a second parking garage is a more long-term idea, la Cour said she is also pleased that Town Manager Paul Bockelman has agreed to hire a consultant to get an estimate for the cost of developing a second structure and determining how much revenue it might generate.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.