Schematic of proposed playground at Kendrick Park. Photo: Town of Amherst Finance Committee.

A playground for Kendrick Park in downtown Amherst, including play structures, “rain gardens,” benches, tables, and walkways, moved one step closer to reality this week with the Finance Committee voting unanimously to recommend the appropriation to the full Town Council.

The Chair of the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC), Nate Budington, along with Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek and Town ComPlanner Nate Malloy, asked the Finance Committee to endorse the proposal and a strategy for funding the estimated cost of $659,000. The town had previously announced that $400,000 (about 70% of the total cost) had been received from the state’s Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities (PARC) Grant Program. The proposal is to pay for the remaining $259,000 with CPA funds. 

CPA funds come from a 3% surcharge on property tax bills to raise funds to address Amherst’s community housing, historic preservation, open space, and outdoor recreation needs.

Budington wrote in a CPAC report, “due to the large amount of state funds available and the limited time frame in which to take action, the CPAC considered this application outside of its normal recommendation cycle.” An affirmative vote by the Town Council to appropriate the full amount has to occur prior to December 31st in order to proceed. 

The state grant is a reimbursement grant, meaning that the Town pays the design and construction costs upfront and later submits for reimbursement from the state. It is a two-year design/build grant, with $50,000 for design in year 1 (FY20) and $608,038 in construction costs in year 2 (FY21). The project would need to be completed by summer 2021.

Ziomek estimated the annual commitment out of CPA funds to pay the debt service on a $259,000 loan would be approximately $30,000 per year for 10 years.

Community input provided to the Town’s recreation department, LSSE, during outreach this summer, showed strong support for a downtown playground, according to Ziomek. The President of the Business Improvement District (BID), Gabrielle Gould, who was also present at the Finance Committee meeting, said she believes “playgrounds are incredible economic drivers.”

District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam asked about building a public restroom on Kendrick Park for use by families frequenting the playground. Nate Malloy responded that there are no plans to build such a facility and that it is outside the scope of the project. 

District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen asked whether there may be other requests for CPA funds for similar projects. “Are the community fields going to come in with a big request?” she asked, noting that Kendrick Park isn’t the only recreational area that is a high priority to residents.

“We don’t anticipate any large open space projects coming in this year,” said Ziomek. He acknowledged, however, that requests for CPA funding may be made in the future to help pay for upgrades to athletic fields used by both the schools and the community.

The poor condition of the athletic fields has been in the news this year. A 2018 study by Weston & Sampson estimated the cost of upgrading the high school track and field at between $3.9 million and $6.2 million. Later phases for other fields ranged from $8-12 million. At a recent Regional School Committee meeting, the new Athletic Director, Victoria Stewart, talked about the need for funds for the schematic design and construction of the high school track and field upgrades. Both would likely be eligible for CPA funding.

Plans for the Kendrick Park playground were developed by Berkshire Design Group in July. The design states it would have separate areas suitable for ages 2-5 and for ages 5-12 and would feature natural and traditional playground elements, 10 new benches and “rain gardens” for run-off. Shade trees would be preserved. A large portion of the $659,000 price tag is for the poured-in-place rubber surface, which costs almost $200,000. 

The appropriation request now moves to the Town Council for a vote on December 16th.

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