An ambitious plan has been unveiled for renovating and updating one of the oldest urban parks in western Massachusetts.
A new master improvement plan for Springfield’s Forest Park outlines renovations along with new construction of buildings, grounds, and activity areas in a section of the 735-acre park that dates back to the late 1800s.
At the centerpiece of the plan is the creation of the Forest Park Horticulture and Learning Center. It would feature a conservatory-style greenhouse with exotic plants of all sizes and varieties, seating areas, and space for lectures and events.
Outside there would be several types of gardens surrounding the greenhouse and a large oval-shaped lawn.
Mayor Domenic Sarno said re-establishing a horticultural area is an innovation that will attract more people to visit and enjoy Forest Park.
"It is very exciting. It is very ambitious," said Sarno at a recent meeting of the city's park commision.
Since Sarno took office almost a decade ago, the city has spent millions on improvements to smaller parks throughout the city.
" Parks are near and dear to my heart," said Sarno.
The city’s parks director Patrick Sullivan said the master plan was developed with help from the Beta Group consulting firm.
" We looked at a lot of the old postcard photographs of the park to see what it looked like in the 1900s, and at the mayor's direction I think we have done a good job to put this plan in place," said Sullivan.
There is no price tag attached to the master plan. Sullivan said funds would be sought from government and private sources to do the construction work over the next 3-5 years.
The Springfield Park Commission has endorsed the new master plan for Forest Park. Chairman Brian Santaniello said the commission will create subcommittees to examine each part of the plan in detail and come up with cost estimates.
"The park really needs a face lift," said Santaniello. " It is a really really intensive plan."
In addition to the horticulture center, the plan proposes improvements to the Trafton Road entrance to the park, a realigned and expanded parking lot, continued renovations to the former Forest Park Zoo Monkey House for public use, and construction of a new building to house an authentic wooden carousel.
An outdoor exercise area, basketball and volleyball courts would be relocated and rebuilt as new.
A renovated grandstand at the baseball diamond would house the relocated offices of the city’s recreation division.