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Wahconah Park's condition 'shocking' to restoration committee during walkthrough

PITTSFIELD — Shortly after the Wahconah Park Restoration Committee's tour of the ballpark on Wahconah Street ended, committee chairman Earl Persip III was asked what he learned looking at the facility, from the locker rooms to the concession stands.

"I actually learned how much the facility is in disrepair. It's shocking to me the way the locker rooms look, the way the concession stands look," the at large city councilor said. "I went into the little cubby hole under the grandstand, and the deterioration of the steel down there, it's amazing."

Persip was joined by the eight other committee members for the walkaround Thursday. The tour was led by Jim McGrath, the Park, Open Space and Natural Resource program manager for Pittsfield; and Sander Stotland, the general manager of the Pittsfield Suns. The Suns are the park's tenant, and with the baseball season having just ended, Stotland was on hand to answer any questions the committee members had.

Darren Lee, a Pittsfield attorney who is active with the Pittsfield Little League programs, also had an eye-opening experience touring Wahconah Park.

"I learned quite a bit. You got to see the inside of the locker rooms and the nuts and bolts behind it," he said. "It sort of backed up what John Barry's report looked like, absolutely."

Tour of ballpark facilities

In addition to the grandstands, the restoration committee also toured the locker rooms at Wahconah Park on Thursday. "I actually learned how much the facility is in disrepair," said At Large City Councilor Earl Persip III, who is the chairman of the restoration committee. "It's shocking to me the way the locker rooms look, the way the concession stands look."

The Barry that Lee mentioned is a Pittsfield architect and was involved in helping determine what was wrong at Wahconah Park, what needed to be fixed or renovated, and why the grandstand at the venerable facility was closed for the Pittsfield Suns' 2022 season.

The committee will meet again at City Hall on Sept. 1. At a 6 p.m. meeting, it is expected that the members will review an RFP [request for proposal] to hire a consultant who can advise the members about the next steps in determining future plans.

McGrath said that the purpose of hiring a consultant was "to help us imagine what can happen here. All those improvements we will consider as a committee."

The committee is tasked with five things:

  • Assess the current condition of the facilities at Wahconah Park
  • Hold hearings and solicit input from residents, engineers, architects and anyone the Committee deems necessary and appropriate
  • Recommend size, location, design and type of repairs, replacement or construction for the grandstand and associated areas including, but not limited to, bathroom facilities, locker rooms, concessions
  • Work with the Purchasing Department to make recommendations to the Mayor and Parks Commission for the hiring or engaging of architects, engineers, inspectors and other agents to advise and assist in the Committee’s duties
  • Issue a preliminary report within 180 days of its appointment and a final report within 270 days of its appointment.
view benieth grandstands

The Wahconah Park Restoration Committee met at the park on Thursday to examine needed improvements. The grandstands were closed this year due to deteriorating support structures. 

Some of the conversation concerned the historic designation of Wahconah Park, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. The designation could, in McGrath's words, set up "guardrails" for when the committee, and by extension the city decides what to do. McGrath said Pittsfield has, so far, been unable to discuss the matter with the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

"It's all on the [commission]. We've tried to reach out to Mass. Historical," he said, adding the agency hasn't replied. "The real interest for Mass. Historic is the grandstand and the characteristics of the grandstand."

After seeing the facility, the committee chairman said he did not think the timetable needs to be moved up and that the 180 days for the preliminary report is sufficient.

"To me, it's sort of broken up into two parts," Persip said. "The big part is the bones of the park itself, and then the fan experience. We have to tackle both."

Persip was asked where the committee goes next.

"Next, we get a consultant to hopefully give us some professional advice. As much as we all have an opinion, I think a professional's opinion is needed here," he said. "We need to do this right one way or the other. This is a once in all of our lifetimes opportunity to make something special happen down here, and I want to see that happen."

Howard Herman can be reached at  hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. 

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