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Grant application rejection means Amherst Common improvements on hold

The state this week announced a series of Parklands Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grants, but Amherst didn’t make the list for its $513,907 project in which an overhaul of the North Common would be designed and then built over a two-year period.

Town Manager John Musante said his understanding is more community outreach needs to be done as part of Amherst’s application for $370,245 in PARC money.

“That can only strengthen any future application,” Musante said.

The area, which is bounded by South Pleasant and Spring Streets, Boltwood Avenue and the Main street parking lot, and which serves as the front lawn of the Town Hall, hosts many functions throughout the year, including the weekly peace vigil, the annual raising of the Puerto Rican flag, the Veterans Day ceremony and Bike Week and Merry Maple events.

But large sections of the 3.5-acre North Common are deteriorating. Bare ground exists in many places, and other areas have washed out. Railroad ties installed in the 1960s still are used as tree boxes and sitting walls for some trees. The roots of trees are exposed, causing tripping hazards.

The condition of North Common comes, in part, because of its close proximity to nearby restaurants and businesses, and its heavy use.

The plans show new sidewalks, plazas for special events, new bench seating and an interpretive area around the Women’s Christian Temperance Union fountain.

Musante said he is having ongoing dialogue with the Amherst Business Improvement District on the role it can play in expanding outreach next year.

Amhersty BID Director Alex Krogh-Grabbe said he and members of the BID want to be involved in the designs for the key downtown spot.

“We are excited about the space,” Krogh-Grabbe said. “It’s so central to the community. It’s used a lot, but it needs some love.”

Krogh-Grabbe said Jeremy Austin, who runs J. Austin Antiques at 31 South Pleasant St., which faces the North Common, and John Kuhn, senior principal at Kuhn-Riddle Architects, who sits on the BID’s beautification committee, are expected to be involved.

Fall Town Meeting agreed to appropriate $158,672 in Community Preservation Act as the state match for the PARC grant, with $15,000 direct and the remainder to be paid back as debt. Musante said a similar commitment of CPA money will be requested again in the spring.

Amherst received a $208,320 PARC grant last year that was used toward the nearly $300,000 spent to renovate and reopen the 1950s-era War Memorial Pool.

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