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Renovations coming to historic Walker Grandstand

Walker Grandstand in Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts will be renovated in a project that is being paid for by a $3 million federal grant.
Paul Tuthill
Walker Grandstand in Forest Park in Springfield, Massachusetts will be renovated in a project that is being paid for by a $3 million federal grant.

Work is part of a series of planned improvements in Forest Park

Federal funds are coming to Springfield, Massachusetts to make improvements to an iconic fixture in the city’s largest public park.

Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, Friday, announced a $3 million grant to the city of Springfield’s Department of Parks to renovate the historic Walker Grandstand overlooking the athletic fields in Forest Park.

“I take great satisfaction and pleasure in what we are witnessing today because I also think it is part of a vast investment in the parks system for future generations,” Neal said.

City officials said the improvements to the grandstand will include a new roof, new backstop and baseball dugouts, repairs to the masonry, and other changes to bring the structure, which was built in 1941, into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The money for the renovations is part of $8 million earmarked in the federal budget by Neal for several local projects.

“We have a series of these other announcements that we’ll be making across the First Congressional District including a very handsome one in Pittsfield,” Neal said.

Through the years, several of the city’s high schools used the baseball diamond at Forest Park as their home field. Recreational leagues use it. American Legion baseball was also played there.

Eric Sutter, a 40-year resident of Springfield who happened to be in the park during Friday’s announcement, said he played baseball there and sat in the grandstand to watch his sons play. He said the improvements are long overdue.

“We needed this update,” Sutter said, “It is high time we had something for the future generations to play ball and enjoy Forest Park.” +

Mayor Domenic Sarno announced the new dugouts will be named in honor of the late Springfield Republican sports columnist Gary Brown.

“He would always look for the heart of the story and he covered a lot of sports, but baseball was his big sport and he knew the heart of the story many time was right in the dugout,” Sarno said.

Renovation of the Walker Grandstand is one part of an ambitious master plan adopted in 2019 to make major changes to what is known as the upper section of the 735-acre park.

The centerpiece of the plan is the development of the Forest Park Horticulture and Learning Center. It would feature a conservatory-style greenhouse with seating areas and space for lectures and events.

The master plan comes with an estimated price tag of $12 million. The city has secured other grants and is lobbying state officials to release $4.5 million that the legislature previously bonded. Private groups are prepared to raise funds to make up the difference, said Springfield parks director Pat Sullivan.

“We are getting through the master plan and I would hope within two years the mayor might be cutting that ribbon in the greenhouse,” Sullivan said.

Sarno has said the horticulture center would be a major tourist attraction. He’s spoken of it hosting an annual show that would rival the hugely popular spring flower show at Smith College.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.