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MA Gov. Patrick Announces Funding for Pittsfield's Infrastructure

Jim Levulis

During a visit to the Berkshires Tuesday, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced nearly $4 million in infrastructure funding for Pittsfield.

Governor Patrick announced the state will give $1.7 million to aid in the $2 million completion of Pittsfield’s First Street Common. Patrick was the keynote speaker at a luncheon of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve got 14 more months,” Patrick said. “We are going to run through the finish line, more things to accomplish. But the point I’m trying to make, is that the strategy of investing in education, innovation and infrastructure is a winning strategy for the commonwealth. I want to demonstrate that and I want to do what I can to keep it going.”

The development process of the seven-acre site in the city’s downtown began in 2010. Jim McGrath oversees the project as the city’s Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager. He says the recently announced funding allows phases 3 and 4 of the development to be combined into one project without scrapping any planned amenities. He explains what that entails.

“What we’ll see happen is the construction of new gazebo, bathroom building and a new performance pavilion where we’ll be able to host outdoor movies, theater and concerts,” McGrath said. “Additional lighting throughout the park, pathways and relocation of the basketball court which is one of the most heavily used amenities within the park.”

A spray ground and community garden will also be added. McGrath says the final phase will cost a little over $2 million, with the city helping to fund the difference from the state’s $1.7 million contribution. Currently in phase 2, the Common has already seen the construction of a promenade and a new playground. Adjacent to the park is the former Plunkett School. Plans were proposed to demolish the building and construct a Dunkin’ Donuts with a drive-thru, but a permit to do so was not granted by the City Council. McGrath says the future of the site is uncertain, and while development of the building is not part of the planned improvements at the Common, there is hope for collaboration going forward.

“But I think there’s a recognition that the site, so proximate to the park, we would hope that there would be good integration between what’s proposed there and the future of the park,” said McGrath.

McGrath says the city is also looking at burying electrical lines running through the park to eliminate the visual barrier they create. He says work at the Common is scheduled to be completed in spring 2015 with a total price tag of $4.5 million.

“For many years the Common saw no investment at all,” he said. “It being such an important downtown amenity and with all the other good things happening in the city between Streetscape and the cultural renaissance, this park really needed that shine put on it and we really think we are getting to that point.”

Governor Patrick also announced a $2 million MassWorks grant for Phase 3 of the city’s Streetscape Improvement Project, which began in 2005. Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi thanked the governor for supporting efforts to develop North and South streets in the heart of downtown.

“The Streetscape program is going to allow us to help improve the central commercial district for this city and we are very grateful to that,” Bianchi said. “That translates into economic development for our community.”

Governor Patrick called investments such as the ones in Pittsfield imperative as he enters his last year in office. He is not seeking reelection in 2014.

“It’s getting these infrastructure projects, which have been waiting a long, long time for investment, really underway and to a point of no return so that the next governor can’t say ‘Well I’d rather not,” explained the governor.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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