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Parks and Rec. history series continues

The country club mentality swimming pools and tennis courts

Editor's Note: This story is the next in a series chronicling the history of the Longmeadow Recreation Department.

By Kate Tobin and Jim Russell

Special to The Reminder

1953 thru 1954 A new swimming pool became an urgent need by 1953. The "pool" at the old water works behind St. Andrews had to be closed in the summer of 1952, and again in 1953 due to sanitary reasons.

The Park Commissioners implored the townspeople to approve the project at the 1954 Town Meeting, as it was the final year before the tax load of a new High School would burden the town. Those who voiced their disapproval of the project felt the town spent too much of the budget on recreation.

The Park Commissioners countered that Longmeadow had always sought to be an above average community. The motion to raise and appropriate $79,511.66 for the purpose of constructing a pool and wading pool, passed at town meeting in 1954, with 359 voting in favor and 174 opposed. The site chosen was Bliss and Laurel Street Park.

The Park Commissioners also wrote a new set of Park rules in 1954. The original rules written in 1936 had become outmoded and obsolete. The 1954 rules prohibited horses in any of the park areas as well as prohibiting any game playing on Sunday before 1:00pm! The 1954 park regulations remained intact until 2005, when the present Park Board voted to update them.

1955 The opening of the new swimming pool at Bliss and Laurel met with resounding success. Nearly 62,000 visits to the pool were made in this inaugural summer. Total monies taken in by membership and gate receipts exceeded $5,000. Swimming lessons were offered for both children and adults.

Tennis continued to prove popular, with 150 children registered for lessons. Square dances were held by the pool, movies at the Community house continued to be popular, and the winter basketball program registered 200 boys and girls. The Park Commissioners continued to express their concern regarding the condition of the Community House.

The heating system was worn out, galvanized water pipes, but no money was forthcoming from the town to make these repairs.

1956 While 1956 proved to be an exceptionally cool summer, attendance at the new pool was only slightly lower.

It was noted the pool program was improving the swimming ability of participates to the extent that Longmeadow won most of the awards at the Springfield Newspapers Regional swimming meet . Basketball was growing by leaps and bounds, and the Commissioners successfully negotiated with the School Committee use of the High School gymnasium.

The Community House continued to be in constant use, with the movie program, classes and various local groups.

1957 The Park Commissioners reported on important and much needed improvements to the Community House. The coal heating system, no longer able to qualify for insurance coverage, was replaced by an oil-fired boiler.

Two large ventilating fans were installed for the auditorium, dining room and clubroom. Other purchases included a new movie projector and amplifier, window shades, table and chairs and mirror with sconces. It was noted that the demand for bookings continued to rise, with business meetings, dances, card parties, fashion shows, concerts, auction sales, and the movie program for teens & children.

The park commissioners also expressed the dire need to obtain more parkland, as the playing fields were overtaxed.

1958 thru 1959 Town meeting was asked to consider in both of these years the acquisition by eminent domain, gift or purchase, a parcel of land that is known now as Turner Park.

Town Meeting of 1959 approved the motion, however due to demands made by a property owner, the Select Board abandoned the motion for the time being.

Town meeting in 1959 voted to appropriate $12,500 towards a tennis court at Greenwood Park, and $200 for the design of a wading pool at Greenwood. The Recreation Department reported its most active year in its history. Over 70,000 visits were made to the Bliss Park pool, and the board recommended that another pool be built at Greenwood Park. Basketball continued to grow. A new program for boys was introduced and run by the High School coaches of D'Agostino, Haskell and Josselyn on Saturday mornings.

Tennis experienced a 300% increase in the number of lessons given. Soccer was introduced and expanded by Maurice Suher, the Varsity High School soccer coach. The Community House continued to be well use and turned $6,542.48 back to the town. The exterior and interior were both painted.

1960 thru 1961 The highway project to continue interstate 91 through the meadows to Springfield was completed, resulting in the decrease of traffic on Longmeadow Street.

Rapid growth in housing, building permits were at an all time high, brought increased pressure to expand town services. The Longmeadow Shops also opened in 1961. Town meeting approved in 1961, the appropriation of $10,000, and the bonding of an additional $40,000 to build a new storage facility on Pondside Rd, for use by both the Public Works Department and the Parks Department. A hockey rink was constructed at the High School at the corner of Williams and Grassy Gutter Roads.

1962 Town meeting voted to appropriate a total of $40,800.00 to the Park and Recreation Department! The monies were used to install a new maple floor in the Community House, as well as complete pointing of the entire exterior.

The rest of the appropriation went towards the construction of a rifle range at Center School, and for the construction of four new tennis courts on land acquired east of the High School, known now as the Blinn Tennis courts.

1963 The Town continued to support Parks and Recreation by appropriating $26,500 at town meeting for various projects. Community House received $8,500 for the renovations of the men's room and installation of new kitchen equipment. $8,500 was used to install new toilet facilities at Greenwood Park, and the tennis courts there were resurfaced for $1800.00.

An addition to the Park Department service building was constructed for $3000.00, and a tractor was purchased for $1,000 A committee of seven people was appointed for the purpose of studying the land acquisition at Turner Park. The property owner, William Kreiner, and the Town of Longmeadow were still negotiating the particulars of the purchase. Of note, William Baer, retired after serving the town since 1947.

He assumed the position when his father Gottlieb Baer, the very first Park superintendent retired. The Board also noted the retirement of the Recreation Director Everett Eastman. With both men retiring in the same year, the Board chose to combine the position, and in 1963, the first Parks and Recreation superintendent Carl I Pirkle, Jr. was hired.

1964 the annual town meeting of 1964 was deliberated over a two-day period. The meeting was adjourned on the first night prior to article 29, which dealt with the recommendations of the special committee appointed to study the land acquisition of the Turner park property.

The property was zoned in 1964 as both business and residential. The business zoned area was considered the best portion of this tract of land, so it was the opinion of the special committee, that all of the land, both residential and business zoned be procured for future park and recreation use. The town could not afford to buy the property in one lump sum due to their already high borrowing capacity in 1964. Further discussion and negotiating with the owner Mr. William Kriener, resulted in an agreement to purchase one parcel each year for 10 years, at a cost of $39,700 for each parcel.

Further more, the least desirable parcels would be purchased first, with the most desirable parcels purchased last, and if Town Meeting failed to exercise the purchase option at any point, Mr. Kriener would terminate the option on any remaining parcels.

The motion carried, and the process to procure Turner Park land was secured. Other notables in 1964 were the transfer of a portion of Greenwood Park to the School Committee, and $6,800 appropriated for improvements to Ball Parks and the Community House.

1965 thru 1969 prolific change and expansion to parklands and recreation were seen in this period. Over $400,000 was appropriated at Town Meeting in these years.

In 1965 monies appropriated led to the lighting of the Bliss Pool. 1966 Town meeting voted to appropriate $75,000 for painting of the Community house, fencing at ball fields, pool decking at Bliss and the construction of four new tennis courts at the site known now as the Blinn courts.

The Town Meeting of 1967 proved to be the most lucrative with an astounding $179,650 appropriated to the Park and Recreation department! This included $125,000 to construct a new pool at Greenwood Park. Throughout these years the town continued to maintain the Community House, and purchase each year a parcel of land at Turner Park.

By 1969 six out of ten of the Turner Park land parcels had been purchased at a cost of $39,700 each and a total of 122 acres. The Park Board urged the town to hire a professional to develop a long-range plan for Turner.

Other notable events were the hiring of Harry Reynolds in 1965. Harry would serve the town as Park Superintendent until his retirement in 2003. In 1967 Bliss pool was the venue for the Junior National AAU Synchronized Swimming championship! The event was made possible by partnering with the Springfield Aqualinas.

A team from California won the event. Additions to recreation programs in 1969, the summer of love, included a yoga program.