Pittsfield City Council gives support to Berkshire Comm. College turf-field project
PITTSFIELD -- The push to build a multi-purpose turf facility at Berkshire Community College now has the official support of both the Pittsfield City Council and Pittsfield School Committee.
At its Tuesday night meeting, the City Council unanimously approved a petition presented by Mike MacDonald, unofficial coordinator of the turf-field project, asking for a letter of support. That letter will join a letter drafted by the School Committee, which approved a similar proposal at its Feb. 12 meeting.
"It's important for us in dealing with the state, to be able to say we have the unanimous support of the City Council," MacDonald said Tuesday. "It's important for other grant sources. It's important for individuals to know that they're not going to be stepping into making a donation to something that isn't fully backed by the city."
MacDonald -- joined at the meeting by BCC President Ellen Kennedy, Pittsfield Soccer Club President Ed Robinson, Fran Marinaro and former St. Joseph football coach Gary Bianchi -- fielded questions from a number of councilors regarding the usage of such a facility. He also noted that Berkshire County is the only county in Massachusetts that does not currently have a turf field for multiple sports.
Bianchi spoke in favor of the field during the open-microphone session at the beginning of the meeting. He cited past troubles with football rainouts at Wahconah Park during his time as St. Joe coach, and said that football wasn't the only sport facing weather-related troubles when it came to fields.
Wahconah Park is currently the home field for both St. Joe and Pittsfield High School's football teams.
City Council President Melissa Mazzeo said she met with Marinaro a month ago to learn more about the field project. She offered to draft a letter of support as a private citizen, parent and youth sports coach, but upon approaching the state ethics commission, said she learned that it would be a conflict of interest to do so.
Mazzeo then recommended the group bring its petition for support to the full council, she said.
"I'm really happy my fellow councilors were just as passionate about it as I am," Mazzeo said. "When people come in for a soccer tournament and look around, we have so much to offer in the Berkshires. The same thing happens [in softball]. ... The next thing you know, they're vacationing here. That leads to [if] they move here. The next thing you know, it's trickling down. That's what you hope for."
Councilor John Krol, whose Ward 6 includes Berkshire Community College, said he is glad to see the project take another step forward in terms of support.
"This process has been going on for a long time. It would have been very surprising not to see the Council in full support of it," Krol said. "The mayor's been supportive of it. I've been supportive of it as the ward councilor. ... There's no one who can really argue the alternative. It's a difficult argument to make."
Krol expects the letter to be drafted within a few days. The School Committee's letter has already been drafted.
The next step for the turf-field committee is to get those letters, along with a number of other letters of support, to State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing. MacDonald said Downing's role will be to help the field project find funding at the state level, helping to cover the approximate $2 million cost of building the field, stands and new light stanchions.
Various groups involved with the project, working with BCC, have been raising money in order to finance engineering and permit work. MacDonald, when asked by Krol about the project timetable, said that BCC could begin work with contracting firms by July if the necessary funds were raised.
MacDonald noted the ability for the field to host postseason high school sporting events, mentioning that he had been forced to travel out of the county a number of times to watch MIAA Western Mass. playoff games between two Berkshire County schools.
A turf field in Pittsfield could keep that from happening in the future.
"It puts them on the same level playing field with other communities," Mazzeo said.
During discussion on the matter Tuesday night, Councilors Krol, Christopher J. Connell, Kevin J. Morandi, Kathleen A. Amuso and Anthony J. Simonelli voiced their support. Connell specifically noted an "economic boost" to Pittsfield as an "additional benefit" to the turf-field project.
"It's good to see it moving forward, and hopefully our letter, along with all those others, will be helpful," Krol said.
To reach Matthew Sprague:
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On Twitter: @BE_MSprague.
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