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Parks & Rec. pursuing $500,000 grant for Spec Pond

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Litz answered a few questions from residents about the Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for the Community (PARC) Program during the public hearing, which took place last Monday evening. Litz appeared with grant writer Wendy Foxmyn during a meeting with the Board of Selectmen.

The Parks and Recreation Department is in the midst of submitting a grant application to PARC to help pay for the nearly $800,000 upgrade of Spec Pond and the surrounding park area. The grant would be provided by the Massachusetts Division of Conservation Services (DCS).

The PARC Program assists communities with the acquisition of parkland as well as construction of new parks and the renovation of existing parks.

"We're applying for a $500,000 regional grant and we'll be eligible for 64 percent reimbursement from the state," Litz explained during the hearing. Up to $8 million in PARC grant assistance funds will be made available.

Litz said the money would be used for things like solar powered lights on walking trails, the development of five acres of new park space near Spec Pond, a new softball field, a spray park, improvements to the beach area at the pond and the burying of overhead power lines for safety.

"Renovations will be the biggest part of the grant use," Litz said.

If awarded the full $500,000 grant, the town of Wilbraham would have to supply $290,000 to complete all the projects in the master plan. To date, $185,000 has already been raised through fiscal year 2009 Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds and fundraising from the Friends of Recreation. Litz said an additional $105,000 is needed from the town.

Voters would need to attend a Special Town Meeting within two months of the approval of the grant application to secure those additional funds.

Board of Selectmen Chair Patrick Brady asked if the remaining $105,000 could come from CPA funds.

"Probably not, because most of the areas are already developed," Litz replied. CPA funds can only be used for the creation of new park space.

Resident Ed Rigney asked if this park overhaul would be considered a capital project, due to its cost.

Brady said no, but that the town is "seizing an opportunity" by pursuing this grant and project.

Resident Stanley Halgas wanted to know if the project would have an impact on property taxes. Brady said, "Yes, in some way, shape or form this will find its way back to real estate."

Halgas also asked if the construction and renovation of the park area would change the Parks and Recreation Department's maintenance budget. Litz said no, but fees for the park would be raised.

The PARC grant application is due by July 15. The Massachusetts DCS will conclude their site inspections by Sept. 12 and award announcements are expected to be made shortly after the site inspections are completed.

Litz said he expects the design phase of the project to begin immediately after town approval and construction to begin in July 2009. He hopes to be finished with the project by June 1, 2010.

"If we don't get the full grant if we get a portion of it we'll prioritize things in the project list," Litz told Reminder Publications. "We're required to ground the overhead lines, and we'll focus on the softball field and then work our way down from that."

Anyone interested in donating to the project fund should contact the Parks and Recreation Department at 596-2816 or the Friends of Recreation at P.O. Box 283, Wilbraham, MA 01095.