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Park Service rules on Ashley Street School Project

Date: 1/31/2014

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD – After months of inactivity, the National Park Service (NPS) finally made its decision regarding the Ashley Street School Project, supporting the conversion of Cross Street Playground.

In a letter dated Nov. 18, 2013 the NPS stated, “The 46-acre replacement site is known as the Weilgus Property and is located approximately one-quarter of a mile from the converted parkland. The replacement site is of greater fair market value than the converted parkland and is of equal recreational usefulness and location.”

In response to the long-awaited decision, Mayor Daniel Knapik said, “It’s an interesting thing that it took so long. We feel quite good about the situation.”

The mayor attributed part of the delay to the recent government shutdown and sequestered spending.

On Sept. 7, 2012 the city hosted a groundbreaking for the site. In preparation for construction, Cross Street Playground was cleared and the former Ashley Street School was demolished.

The site remained under temporary injunction while the National Parks Service (NPS) ruled on whether the Article 97 requirement had been satisfied for the use of Cross Street Playground as part of the new 600-student elementary school site, initially anticipated to open in September 2014. The injunction was implemented Sept. 18, 2012.

In March of 2013, the city submitted its environmental assessment of the playground, which is protected by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, to the NPS.

In April of 2013, during the public comment period of the assessment Alice Wielgus, owner of the property at 146-150 Main St., submitted a letter stating that her land, which was named as a replacement site in the environmental assessment to accommodate the conversion of the Cross Street Playground, was not for sale.

In the approval letter, the NPS cited a condition for the conversion of the Wielgus property “The city of Westfield will conduct a Phase 1 archeological survey prior to any ground disturbing development at the replacement site. Additionally, no ground-disturbing activities can take place on the replacement site until the Phase 1 archeological survey and proposed construction has been reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Officer in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.”

The restriction was imparted because the property “contains two ancient Native American archeological sites that are recorded in the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s Inventory of Historic and Archeological Assets of the Commonwealth, but do not meet the Criteria of Eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places,” according to the NPS.

In regards to the next step in the project, Knapik said, “We will be engaging the Wielgus Family Trust,” to continue with the acquisition of the property.

At this time, the city has not released details regarding the archeological survey.