Redesigned Pulaski Park in Northampton ready for reopening

  • A stormwater system that makes use of natural plant life and soils is shown July 21 in the newly redesigned Pulaski Park in Northampton. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff Sarah Crosby/Gazette Staff

  • A natural rock fountain, above, and playground, below, are shown Thursday at the newly redesigned Pulaski Park in Northampton. There will be an opening ceremony for the park at 4 p.m. Friday. Gazette Staff/Sarah Crosby

  • A wooden stage is shown July 21 in the newly redesigned Pulaski Park in Northampton. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff Sarah Crosby/Gazette Staff

  • The newly redesigned Pulaski Park is shown July 21 in Northampton. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff Sarah Crosby/Gazette Staff

  • Natural elements shown July 21 are featured in the play area of the newly redesigned Pulaski Park in Northampton. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff Sarah Crosby/Gazette Staff

  • A play structure is shown July 21 in the newly redesigned Pulaski Park in Northampton. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff Sarah Crosby/Gazette Staff

  • The newly redesigned Pulaski Park in Northampton features natural play elements and wide open green space. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff Sarah Crosby/Gazette Staff

  • Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz talks about the newly redesigned Pulaski Park July 21 in Northampton. SARAH CROSBY/Gazette Staff Sarah Crosby/Gazette Staff

Published: 7/21/2016 10:11:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The cafe lights are strung, the grass seed is sown and Pulaski Park is finally ready to debut its new look: A redesign that focuses on sustainability and the incorporation of natural elements.

Pulaski Park will reopen to the public with a ceremony Friday at 4 p.m. The one-acre downtown space has been closed for nearly nine months as crews worked on the first phase of a redesign process shaped by community input and led by landscape architect Stephen Stimson Associates of Cambridge.

“I love this park,” said Mayor David J. Narkewicz. “This is a major investment by the city in downtown Northampton.”

Narkewicz snapped photos of the park Thursday afternoon to post on his Twitter account as landscapers used rakes and a leaf blower to put their finishing touches on the site. Originally set to open last week, the ceremony was pushed back due to delays receiving milled wood and fabricated metal components for the public seating and children’s play area, according to the mayor.

Landscaper Liam Collins, 26, said the custom aspects of the redesign were a welcome challenge for his team. Collins is a project manager at Mountain View Landscapes of Chicopee.

“It’s a great project. It was a tight project to do with a lot of custom design work,” Collins said. “Every aspect came out nice.”

Collins said the landscapers used every skill in their repertoire to complete the project as they dealt with electric, steel, concrete and site work. In accordance with Community Preservation Act policy, utilities that once spanned the park through overhead wires are now underground, the mayor added.

Delays in material deliveries, a single access point for the crew and keeping the park on a level grade were not easy, Collins said, but after nine months of work the plans have become a reality.

‘A little bit of everything’

Landscape architect Lauren Stimson said the park design celebrates diversity, local history and environmental sustainability. She will attend the grand opening with a team of her staff.

“We are so excited,” Stimson said. “The park has a little bit of everything.”

Stimson said the rusty steel features of the park are a nod to the city’s industrial past and river plants are reminiscent of the section of the Mill River that once ran near the park.

According to Narkewicz, the Pulaski Park design is split into four sections. The plaza is at the front of the park, where visitors can sit at movable cafe tables to eat lunch, converse and relax. Strands of lights span the wide lot to illuminate it in the evenings. Park benches and a long, wooden “urban lounge” seating area complete the space.

There are 20 cafe tables and 40 chairs painted in shades of orange, green, blue and purple, according to Stimson. The mayor said the tables and chairs will remain in the park even during the night. Narkewicz said he trusts the people of the city, especially after Chief of Staff Lyn Simmons loaned several plastic chairs to place on the sidewalk while the nearby bus stop was being renovated.

“There were six chairs, and they all stayed there … I think Northampton is the kind of city where you can do this,” Narkewicz said.

Stimson agreed the movable furniture was a smart move by the city. She said it will encourage public use and offer flexibility to visitors to use the park how they please.

“That’s what I love about Northampton,” Stimson said. “From the start, the mayor and the DPW said they wanted to encourage public use all the time.”

Beyond the plaza is the green, a large grassy area where visitors can plop down on a picnic blanket, read a book or watch a performance on the nearby wooden stage at the edge of the lawn. According to Stimson, the green will “capture the warmth” of sunny afternoons.

“The old park had a lot of concrete and less grass or green space,” Narkewicz said. “This is a big improvement … the green is the heart of the park.”

One of the environmentally progressive features of the park is a stormwater garden that runs parallel to the green. Water is funneled into a channel with plants designed for wet environments to naturally treat the water before it goes into the city’s stormwater system. Narkewicz explained the channel can cut down on water that needs to be treated by building a natural cleansing system with plants and soils.

“It’s environmentally progressive. To have stormwater from Route 9 coming into the park and a garden cleansing the water, it’s a bold move, and it’s not something you see in New England,” Stimson said. “We had a city engineer who was forward-thinking and we were able to pull it off.”

A shaded “woodland garden” winds around the edge of the park with benches, plants and a wide path that lends itself to strollers and wheelchairs. The entire park is accessible through a single-grade pathway, making it completely handicapped-accessible, the mayor said.

For the younger members of the city’s downtown scene, a children’s play area was created with local elements like Goshen stone and locust logs in a shaded corner of the park.

The play area features tree stumps to jump on, a wooden deck for parents to sit, stacked logs to climb on and a climbing structure that spins. A large slab of Goshen stone serves as a slide that will bring children from level to level of the play area.

“Kids love to climb on anything,” Narkewicz said. “There’s this theme of keeping it natural. During the design process people gravitated to natural kinds of play areas.”

The sealed ends of the locust logs are painted with different colors and the tree stumps have colorful numbers painted on them to create “a little bit of whimsy,” Narkewicz said.

A time capsule placed in Pulaski Park in 1976 remains intact and unopened, marked by a plaque on a granite stone in the park. A beloved evergreen tree at the front of the park used annually in holiday celebrations was cut down, but another evergreen tree toward the back of the park can be used for that purpose, the mayor said.

Design process

For the mayor, the Pulaski Park redesign has been nearly a decade-long process. The first discussions came in 2007, when Narkewicz was a first-term Ward 4 city councilor, and members of the Pulaski Park Redesign Committee unveiled plans for a new park. Stephen Stimson Associates was awarded a design contract in 2009, but the recession of 2008 hampered funding for the project for several years, the mayor explained.

“We had the concept, but it was put on hold until 2012 when the state changed the CPA law,” Narkewicz said.

In 2012, the state changed Community Preservation Act laws to allow funding to renovate parks that were not originally built with CPA funding, Narkewicz said.

The city secured $1,450,000 in city Community Preservation Act funds and a $400,000 Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) grant from the state. Before the state’s decision, Pulaski Park did not qualify for Community Preservation Act funding because it was not built with those funds.

Phase II of the project will create an overlook that connects the park to the Roundhouse parking lot. According to Narkewicz, the city has secured additional Community Preservation Act funding and another $400,000 PARC grant. The project has been put out to bid, and the mayor said he cannot estimate total cost for phase II until bids come back sometime next week.

“My goal is to start construction beginning at the end of this year or next spring,” Narkewicz said.

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