Pittsfield preservation panel recommends $581K for projects

Controversial pickleball plans among beneficiaries

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PITTSFIELD — A pickleball proposal survived a preliminary funding round alongside 11 other community projects in the city.

The Community Preservation Committee voted in favor of funding a dozen projects for a total of $581,118 in Community Preservation Act funds in the program's second-ever funding cycle. The recommendations now to go City Council for final approval.

The council will take up the recommendations as part of the budget process beginning next month. City councilors can't add money to projects or add new projects to the list, but they can decide to reduce funding for certain projects or decide to scrap a project altogether.

All committee members voted in favor of funding the pickleball proposal at Springside Park, though committee members did not vote in favor of fully funding the $52,500 request. They instead recommended funding the project at $35,272.

To make up the gap, committee Vice Chairwoman Danielle Steinmann said, proponents should look to the community for in-kind donations like those behind the Doyle Softball Complex renovations did.

"That's a model that pickleball folks should consider," she said.

A $17,000 upgrade at the softball complex is one of two projects that received support for all of the requested funds. The other was a $90,000 request to fuel an impending six-unit condo development from Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.

Other large allotments include $75,000 toward a planned Berkshire Family YMCA overhaul, $100,000 toward a roof replacement at Zion Lutheran Church and $62,000 toward a roof replacement for Berkshire Theatre Group.

Sheila Irvin, a committee member, said she appreciated the comments from residents. Even those that conflict with one another.

"It falls to us to try to look at all sides of it," she said.

Committee member Shirley Edgerton argued for funding projects like the Berkshire Family YMCA overhaul and restoration work at the Samuel Harrison House, which received support from the committee in the amount of $60,000. Edgerton said it's crucial that the committee do its part to make sure the projects are inclusive and that all of Pittsfield is represented.

"I think those things are also important," she said.

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Opposition to demolishing St. Mary's helped spur along the adoption of the Community Preservation Act surcharge in the city, committee Chairman John Dickson noted.

Committee members voted to set aside $37,500 for roof work at that historic building.

"There are a couple of these that are major city projects and I think this is one of them," he said.

Pickleball back and forth

William Travis, a city resident and retired superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools, said the pickleball facility would serve as "a wonderful and healthy asset for the city." He said he and other pickleball proponents are involved retirees and Pittsfield devotees with time and talent to spare.

"We are no special interest group today," Travis told committee members. "We are the athletes, coaches, referees and booster club parents of 30, 40 and 50 years ago."

But Park Commissioner Joe Durwin and others said the proposal comes in spite of the work put into a master plan for Springside Park — whose advocates assert its place as a natural park — and that funds should be used to spruce up existing assets across its sprawling acres.

Elizabeth Kulas, president of the board for the Herbert Arboretum at Springside Park, said the pickleball proposal encroaches on the Miller family's intentions for donating the park. The family saw natural land nibbled away at for development and saw the need for preserved open space.

Royal Hartigan, who identified himself after the meeting as a founding member of the Friends of Springside Park, called the pickleball courts an "unwanted, unnecessary single-use activity structure that violates the intent, spirit and trust of the park."

Gerald Doyle, committee member and former mayor, described the acreage ask of 0.3 acres as small. And if the committee decided not to fund the pickleball project, those funds could not be redirected into Springside Park this year, said Simon Muil, a committee member as well as a park commissioner.

"The pickleball proposal is not taking money from other Springside plans," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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