Easthampton council OKs CPA money for playgrounds at New City neighborhood, 2nd phase of Old Town Hall renovations

Renovations to Old Town Hall in Easthampton include an accessible entryway and a new elevator.

Renovations to Old Town Hall in Easthampton include an accessible entryway and a new elevator. contributed

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 11-20-2023 11:57 AM

EASTHAMPTON — One new park will be constructed and another rehabbed in the New City neighborhood after the City Council approved spending for several Community Preservation Act projects last week.

Another project included in the combined $1 million appropriation is a second phase of Old Town Hall renovations.

New City neighborhood — built during the Industrial Revolution when it was mainly occupied by immigrant families who had come to work in the local mills — “has a deep, deep history within the soul of the city,” Councilor Owen Zaret said.

“It’s up to us to reinvigorate and put a little bit of soul back into the area of town,” Zaret said.

City Council unanimously authorized the appropriation of $120,000 in CPA funding for the project, which consists of rehabilitation of the existing Parsons Street Playground, and the creation of a new facility at a vacant parcel on Lincoln Street.

Councilor Dan Rist said that the existing parks in New City are “horrific.”

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The Parsons Street Playground consists of a swingset, a trash can and a Valley BikeShare station, while the Lincoln Street parcel carved off from the old Parsons Street School is currently vacant.

Combined with a $100,000 earmark in the state budget, the CPA funds will allow the city to move forward with design and development of the playgrounds.

“I think it’s important to recognize that for our young people, they are participating less and less in organized sport and things like that,” said Councilor Koni Denham. “This is an opportunity for them to come together and build community in a safe way.”

City Council President Homar Gomez added that the city is often slow when it comes to following through on projects for New City, the lowest-income community in the city.

“This is happening a little too late, but it’s happening,” Gomez said. “I hope the next time when we’re dealing with poor communities in our city, we can move a little faster because they need it and they need us.”

Old Town Hall

The council also approved $878,000 in supplemental funds for the continued renovation of Old Town Hall, specifically for the construction of a new ADA-accessible entrance and elevator.

“This is an imperative part of the project,” said Burns Maxey, president of CitySpace, the nonprofit group that manages Old Town Hall. “It creates accessibility to all floors of the building from the basement to the balcony, and for the first time in the building’s 154-year history, this will make the second floor accessible.”

Since the plans for the three-phase renovation were established in 2018, the total cost of the project is estimated at $10.9 million, compared to the pre-pandemic price tag of $6.9 million. That increase is due to inflation and supply chain issues, said Maxey.

The cost of phase two itself has increased by $1.4 million, now totaling $3.9 million, which is why CitySpace approached the CPA committee for help with supplemental funds.

Rist explained that the funding is not a new appropriation; it is part of a larger $3.25 million CPA appropriation already approved by the council last year.

“They’re at a crossroads,” said Rist. “If CitySpace doesn’t fund this now, I don’t believe this project will fly because it’ll just get more expensive.”

Maxey also noted that several donors have expressed interest in donating even more for phase three once phase two is completed.

“What it’s going to do for the city is it’s going to change Main Street; it’s going to create jobs; it’s going to have over 350 and more people walking out at stores spending their money,” Maxey said.

As the building moves toward full restoration, CitySpace has already hosted over 130 shows and events in the space this year; Big Red Frame is presenting its 10th year of Art is Gift; and Easthampton City Arts Galleries has over 30 local artists exhibiting and selling their art.

“We are not just building a performance venue,” Maxey said. “We are removing barriers to human and community potential by revitalizing a centrally-located historic building that will not only provide economic renewal, but improve the quality of life.”

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.