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Neighborhood residents call for park's revival

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM Karen Vella, a resident of Meadowbrook Road, said her oldest son "lives, eats and breathes baseball." But sending her three children out to play baseball in their neighborhood park means her son comes home with poison ivy, she explained.

Vella said that what was once a beautifully kept park for the young and old to enjoy has become overrun with weeds, poison ivy and broken bottles.

Tired of the park's dilapidated condition, Vella petitioned town officials on behalf of Meadowbrook residents to appropriate funds to restore the park. A recommendation from the Community Preservation Committee currently before the City Council calls for the appropriation of $12,000 of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding for two neighborhood parks. If approved, the funds will be used to hire a landscape architecture firm to produce a design proposal and cost analysis for the Meadowbrook and Valleybrook neighborhood parks.

Christopher Sparks, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said the delay for a funding application was due to the ongoing construction of the School Street and River Road Park -- projected to open this year.

"We had to prioritize the funding and workload on the Park and Rec. [Department]," Sparks explained of the delay. He added that he also wanted to include Valleybrook in the park redevelopment process even though Valleybrook residents have yet to contact him -- because he is looking to "evenly distribute park growth" throughout town.

In Sparks' application for the CPA funds, he cited the results of the 2006 Open Space and Recreation survey, in which 95 percent of responses indicated their support for more town recreation facilities.

Within Sparks' Meadowbrook/Valleybrook Master Plan Proposal, he included estimates from three landscape architects, including Berkshire Design Group Inc. (who projected their design cost at $11,100), Kaestle Boos Associates Inc. (who projected their design cost at $16,000) and Weston & Sampson (who projected their design cost at $25,000).

Sparks said he is looking to "reclaim the areas as usable spaces," adding that the appeal for these parks is that they will be for their own neighborhoods as opposed to regional parks such as the one on School Street and River Road.

"There are areas in town that do need neighborhood parks and we've been concentrating on big parks and neglecting neighborhood parks," Louis Russo, vice chair of the Community Preservation Committee, said.

Russo added that he is also concerned with the maintenance of parks across town. He said that he will be working with Mayor Susan Dawson to try and allocate for a larger appropriation of maintenance funding within the town's budget.

Henry Kozloski, chair of the Community Preservation Committee, said the committee recommended that the funds be appropriated for the two parks in order to preserve open space and also as part of their annual mandates. He explained that every year 10 percent of CPA funds must be appropriated for housing, historical preservation and open space, adding that any remaining funds can be used for the three aforementioned categories and recreation.

City Councilor Jill Simpson, chair of the Ad Hoc CPA Committee, said, "There's a need for more localized areas for local kids to use open space." She added, however, that the town must also have the funds to maintain the parks.

Sparks explained that if the CPA funds are approved by the City Council the design process will move forward and he will also apply for an Urban Self-Help Grant from the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs for additional funding for the cites' reconstruction.