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CPC approves School Street Barn, park design funding

Date: 3/20/2012

March 21, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

AGAWAM — Resident's concerns about future costs did not deter Community Preservation Committee (CPC) members from funding a pair of popular School Street Park projects.

At its March 14 meeting, the committee unanimously approved a request to appropriate $61,750 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for initial design services for the proposed restoration of the historic School Street Barn. It also approved the spending of $125,000 for architectural services related to a re-conceptualizing of Phase II of the School Street Park project.

The committee also approved the withdrawal of a $2 million request to use CPA money to fund the original Phase II construction, based on the outcome of a recent grant application.

On Jan. 19, Christopher Sparks, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation received notification that the town's application for a $500,000 reimbursable Parkland Acquisition and Renovations for Communities (PARC) Program grant from the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs had been rejected. That money had been designated as part of the original Phase II construction funding.

Deborah Dachos, director of Planning and Community Development, reprised an earlier presentation on the School Street Barn project for the committee, indicating that Crosskey Architects of Hartford, Conn., submitted the lowest bid for restoration design services and that the application to place the barn on the National Historic Register was in process.

She added that the architect "has had extensive experience rehabbing barns, both private and public."

Dachos then noted that with or without restoration approval, the town would be responsible for the cost of necessary work on the building such as repairs to the 150-year-old barn's crumbling foundation, rotting window sills, and aging roof.

"It is [the town's] responsibility, and has been since the town purchased the park," she noted. "Why not make the changes so that space can be used for other purposes?"

Former City Councilor Jill Messick supported Dachos' request for design funding, saying, "School Street Park would not be School Street Park without the barn. We do not have another space in town that could be used like this space."

Among future plans for the restored barn are its use for various town functions such as art shows, summer camps and a farmers' market, and potential rental to private groups.

"If you vote for the appropriation, we will hear from the expert what it can and can't be used for," Dachos added.

During public speak time, resident Helen Chester questioned "how much it would cost the town to heat and maintain" the proposed restored structure year round — which in a model provided by CPC Chairman Henry Kozloski showed an open, uninsulated roof design. She also asked how much the barn could be altered if it was accepted on the National Historic Register. Resident Charles Cavanaugh questioned what the upkeep of the barn would be once the restorations were complete, asking "in 2020, what will the gas bill be, the electric bill?"

Though no immediate answer was given to projected upkeep costs, committee member Richard Bennett said if the barn is placed on the National Historic Register, only alterations necessary to bring the barn up to building codes could be made.

* * *

Sparks presented the request for a $125,000 CPA funds appropriation for a re-design of Phase II of the School Street Park project. He said the amount was based on a bid submitted by Berkshire Design Group, the architectural firm selected from the 28 applicants for the original Phase II design. Sparks added that Berkshire Design was already familiar with the park, as it designed Phase I.

The funds, Sparks said, would be used in part to redefine the wetlands areas in preparation for the site plan submission to the Conservation Commission.

Kozloski confirmed that the current wetlands permit, which was more than 3 years old, had expired.

Sparks said the plan is to host a public meeting on the project to get resident's input on amenities they would like to see included in the second phase of park development. He hoped this meeting could take place while the wetlands survey of the project was being conducted.

This public input, he said, would be used to draft a redesign of the proposed construction plans for the park.

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