CPA panel supports $700K for school playing fields in Amherst 

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-02-2023 7:21 PM

AMHERST — Improved playing fields that would be built at a new elementary school at the Fort River School site could be supported with Community Preservation Act money.

Following an extended discussion about the request from residents for $3 million to rebuild those fields, and add a restroom building and lights, the CPA Committee voted 6-1 to recommend that $700,000 go toward a scaled-down project, contingent on the successful Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override vote on the school project next May.

“I think the CPA should support the fields being upgraded, and that we want to ensure that when the school project goes ahead the fields part doesn’t get dropped,” said committee member Matt Cain.

The potential appropriation from the CPA account is less than the request made by residents Maria Kopicki, Rudy Perkins and Toni Cunningham, who sought the funding for the 70 South East St. site where a new 565-student, K-5 school, to replace both Wildwood and Fort River schools, could open in the fall of 2026.

But even the amount that would be bonded raised concern for committee member Tim Neale. “I definitely support doing something with those fields. I do not support using CPA funds for that,” Neale said.

Neale said the project coming forward from residents, rather than the School Committee or school district, was improper, and appeared to be a political strategy to reduce the cost of the school project when presented to voters.

The fields should be rolled into the override, he said, not covered by CPA money, which can be used for affordable housing, open space, recreation and historic preservation.

“I feel the project can be done if voters approve an override,” Neale said.

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But CPA Committee Chairman Sam MacLeod said the committee recognizes that the fields are an important resource and should offer some amount, even if less than the original request.

Committee member Katie Allan Zobel said she agrees that the request seemed an unusual approach, but the CPA is an appropriate source of money.

Like all budgetary items, the Town Council will have to approve any CPA spending next spring. By bonding the fields project, that would add less than $100,000 in new debt to the $433,000 in existing debt.

Numerous other proposals will bring the annual CPA spending to around $2.8 million. The recommendations were reduced from $7.6 million in requests.

For new spending, the largest is $750,000 that will assist Valley Community Development of Northampton to move forward with a project that would include 30 duplex condominiums on Ball Lane.

Another $250,000 would go for affordable housing projects undertaken by the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, $400,000 would go to Way Finders Inc. of Springfield for 70 affordable apartments between its East Street School and Belchertown Road sites, and $205,200 would be used for a rental subsidy program of Amherst Community Connections.

The committee is recommending $102,020 for renovation of the roof at the Dickinson Farmhouse at Wildwood Cemetery, $10,000 for an Historical Commission historic barn and outbuilding assessment, $238,289 for repairs to the South Congregational Church’s steeple, and $70,000 for town conservation area improvements.

In addition, $200,000 would be used for the War Memorial poolhouse design to begin the process of replacing the 1950s-era building, and $133,000 would be used for War Memorial pool renovations.

Paintings of botanicals by Mabel Loomis Todd, the editor and publisher of Emily Dickinson’s poems, would get $16,450.

A request for $450,000 to improve the Crocker Farm School playground was dropped by school officials, and Amherst Zion Church of the Nazarene in North Amherst will have to provide a more specific plan before money for renovations to its North Amherst building can be recommended.

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