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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: A necessary look into the future for Wahconah Park

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While the closure of the grandstands at Wahconah Park this summer will hurt, Pittsfield Suns owner Jeff Goldklang told The Eagle that he was happy that the issues were identified and being addressed.

We are happy to hear Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer get the ball rolling on a serious conversation about Wahconah Park’s future. During a radio interview last week, the mayor said she has submitted an order to create a nine-member Wahconah Park Restoration Committee.

Assuming the City Council’s quick approval, that panel will have its work cut out for it: assessing the state of the ballpark and its facilities; soliciting input from community stakeholders and experts; recommending a plan of action going forward, whether it’s repairs, redesign, relocation or some combination thereof.

Most of the current woes of Wahconah Park, built in 1950, are well-known. Earlier this year, the city announced that the grandstand is structurally deficient to the point of being unsafe. It was sad news about a crumbling piece of history as notable as the venue around it, which is one of the last remaining ballparks in the country where baseball is played in front of a wooden grandstand.

Temporary bleachers installed around the field currently provide seating to those going out to the ballgames this summer, but the mayor is right to see the park’s compiling problems as both a crisis in need of addressing and an opportunity for a big step into the future for this gem nestled on the outskirts of downtown Pittsfield. After all, it’s not just the grandstand that needs attention, but the aging locker rooms and restrooms, easily overwhelmed concession areas, and subpar parking situation as well.

Baseball is important to Pittsfield, and as area fans of the sport will have you know, Pittsfield is pretty important to baseball, too — from the first written mention of baseball in the U.S. to the numerous Major League legends who paid their minor-league dues here. While the MLB farm system has been absent from Pittsfield for some time, the Suns of the Futures League bring joy to baseball fans throughout the Berkshires. A rich cultural and historical vein still strongly runs from the heart of America’s pastime through our backyards, and Wahconah Park is its home base. Given its current state, the city needs to do better by a landmark so crucial to its identity.

When the restoration committee steps up to the plate, it will have to be both open-minded and clear-eyed. The value of this asset is priceless, but the public funds needed to preserve and upgrade it will be very real and quite possibly steep. That’s likely to be true regardless of how stickier issues are handled. How much and how long would the city be looking at for a restoration project? Should the historic field itself be realigned to alleviate the sun delays caused by the current westward-facing grounds? While a new location would be a bigger and more controversial change, would a different footprint make more sense for the necessary upgrades?

We won’t pretend to have answers to those looming questions, but the Wahconah Park Restoration Committee will have to get to the bottom of it. Kudos to Mayor Tyer for raising the issue. Her order instructs the committee to present preliminary findings within 180 days and a final report within 270 days. We look forward to seeing the process and conclusions — and we hope it helps usher the home of the Suns into the 21st century and onward toward a brighter future for all Berkshire baseball fans to enjoy.

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