Amherst eyes 5 enhancement projects this year

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

AMHERST — Projects that will enhance public spaces in downtown and South Amherst and improve sites for athletics, recreation and other activities, will commence this spring.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman told the Select Board Monday that officials have an ambitious plan to get five projects underway in 2018.

“We’re going to be very busy over the next year,” Bockelman said.

One of the most visible will be in front of Town Hall, where the town has more than $500,000 in Community Preservation Act money available for improvements to the North Common, the green space between the Spring Street and Main Street parking lots.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek, who is overseeing this work, said a conceptual design created by staff at the Department of Public Works will be used to add new seating areas and eliminate the washouts and tripping hazards on the site known for the Merry Maple celebration and the weekly peace vigil.

“Our goal would be to be under construction ideally early this summer,” Ziomek said. “That is an optimistic and aggressive goal.”

At the same time, the town will improve the Main Street parking lot for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

“At this time our plan is to utilize transportation fund money as well as the CPA allocation of $540,000,” Ziomek said.

A bit later in the summer, likely in late August, work will begin at Groff Park in South Amherst. This will be the first phase of building a spraypark and new playground, with features appropriate for children of all ages, and constructing new pavilions on both the upper level of the park and the lower level closer to the Fort River.

Berkshire Design Group of Northampton will be handling the design work for the project.

Ziomek said the goal is to have the entire park available for the summer and then fence off a construction area as the new school year begins. All work will be done by 2019.

Playing fields

While it’s unlikely any improvements will be made right away, the Amherst Center Recreation Working Group is in the process of creating a master plan for enhancing the core playing fields and sites in downtown Amherst.

These include Community Field on Triangle Street, which features softball and baseball diamonds, a football gridiron, War Memorial Pool and a dilapidated basketball court. At the adjacent Amherst Regional High School are a track and soccer fields. Also nearby are the fields and tennis courts at the Amherst Regional Middle School and Wildwood School, and the town-owned land at the Hawthorne Meadow that remains undeveloped.

Using up to $80,000 appropriated by Town Meeting, the town is hiring Weston & Sampson, an engineering and design firm from Boston.

“We’re very excited to be working with them,” Ziomek said.

Ziomek said the working group has met with town and school facilities staff and the school’s athletic director as the master plan is developed for this core area. The consultant is supposed to look at issues such as possible reconfiguration of fields, the playing surfaces used and locations for restrooms and spectator seating.

A public meeting will take place Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. at Town Room at Town Hall where input from coaches, parents and athletes will be collected.

Landfill projects

Another project is installing a 4-megawatt solar array on the capped landfill on the north side of Belchertown Road, with an Agawam solar developer.

“We feel as though we have a strong and growing partnership with LEE Energy Group, our partner on this,” Ziomek said.

The town will have to go through a series of permitting steps, including some related to protecting the endangered grasshopper sparrow.

The final project is to get a dog park constructed on up to 2 acres of the capped landfill on the south side of Belchertown Road.

Ziomek said staff will consult with the state Department of Environmental Protection on making sure there are no issues with damaging the landfill’s cap, and will also seek a grant from the Stanton Foundation that could provide more than $200,000 for building the dog park.

Much of that landfill will also have to be set aside as a habitat for the grasshopper sparrow.

“We’ll have to be working very closely with our solar team on this,” Ziomek said.

At Town Meeting this spring, $90,000 in Community Preservation Act money will be sought to complete the DEP reuse study, complete a general survey of the property and match the Stanton grant.

Each project will have multiple opportunities for public comment, as well as regular updates on the town’s website.

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