|Community Preservation Committee Supports Three Funding Requests|
|By Rebecca Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
04:13AM / Friday, January 24, 2020
|Tim Carr, chairman of the now-disbanded ad hoc Williamstown Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, speaks at the Community Preservation Committee meeting Wednesday night.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's Community Preservation Committee gave its stamp of approval on three requests for funding from Community Preservation Act proceeds at its meeting on Wednesday night.
The applications totaled $159,800 and came from three bodies: the town's Affordable Housing Trust, the Sand Springs Recreation Center and the town itself. Town Manager Jason Hoch said the CPA currently has a balance of around $197,000 in funds available to allocate.
The largest of this year's application was for $75,000 by the Affordable Housing Trust, which has sought and received CPA funds each year since it was founded. Although the funds will be labeled as "unrestricted," meaning the trust can use them in various ways, Tom Sheldon said the trust intends to use the funds to continue its Richard DeMayo Mortgage Assistance Program, which, to date, has dispersed $280,500 in CPA funds to 19 income-qualified, first-time homeowners in town.
As part of its application, the trust included anecdotal information about some of the DeMayo MAP recipients, a group that includes, "a local first responder who had just graduated from the police academy," and "a single mother who was moving back to the area."
Reading those anecdotes, as well as testimonials from the lender, makes it a no-brainer to support, said Jane Patton, who was elected to serve another term as chairman at the beginning of Wednesday's meeting.
"For me this is always easy," she said. "It's for all the right reasons. It hits all the right notes."
The committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of the funds at the annual town meeting this spring. Last May, town meeting overwhelmingly approved a similar $75,000 request from the Affordable Housing Trust.
Likewise, 2019's annual town meeting approved a request for $34,800 from Sand Springs. This year, the nonprofit that operates a popular, historic swimming pool is back to ask for the same amount for a different project after it was unable to spend the money it requested for fiscal 2019-20.
Ben Sosne, president of the Sand Springs board of directors, explained that the project they had hoped to complete last year, which included adding better accessibility to the pool and accessibility to the second floor, ended up not being possible. They have since scrapped the idea of using the second floor, he said, but they have a new idea to meet the accessibility goal this year: adding a small building on the parking lot side of the pool where people can enter at pool level instead of entering through the current building, which is at a lower level than the pool and requires several steps to access the pool deck. That new building will also include an accessible restroom, Sosne said.
In addition to solving the accessibility problem, Sosne said, changing the flow will allow better use of the first floor of the building for events and parties -- something the board originally had hoped to use the second floor for.
While members of the committee expressed some skepticism that a new building with plumbing could be completed for the $34,800 sought, Sosne expressed optimism that this will be the solution that will work to solve this years-old problem.
"I feel very confident in it," he said.
Hoch acknowledged the work the the board of Sand Springs has put into solving this problem and the courage to keep trying to fix it with the help of the town.
"Thank you for coming in and rethinking this," he said, adding that it was a "good reminder" that sometimes as projects progress there's a need to change direction. "Sometimes a second review is a good thing."
The committee unanimously approved recommending that this money be approved at town meeting, as well.
The last of the three applications involved the town itself asking for money after the completion of a study by the ad hoc Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, which identified a strong desire among various youth sports leagues in town for fields to reduce crowding and alleviate overuse of existing playing surfaces.
The town is seeking $50,000 in CPA funds to augment $25,000 from the town's coffers for a $75,000 "study to assess feasibility of adding new playing fields at various locations in town, including properties that might be acquired."
Hoch is listed as the project lead, with support from Community Development Director Andrew Groff and Craig Clough, who manages the town's parks and cemeteries. Select Board member Jeffrey Thomas and PARAC Chairman Tim Carr are listed as advisers to the project.
Speaking at Wednesday's meeting, Thomas praised the ad hoc committee for the "amazing amount of work" it did to complete the study, which ended up listing 12 priorities. Of those 12, the second priority was the need for playing fields, behind only the desire for a person overseeing the town's recreation opportunities.
"This was a very enthusiastic point we heard repeatedly," Carr said Wednesday.
Thomas said the next step would be Hoch soliciting a third party to perform studies on five sites around town that could potentially host fields. Hoch said he is planning on an estimated $15,000 for each site, understanding that some might be less to study and some might be more, but he felt it was important to get a broader understanding of the scope of available space throughout town.
"There's no one magical answer," he said. "I'm leaving myself open for the possibilities of what might be available."
While Hoch did not specify what five sites he had in mind ("Stay tuned," he joked), he did say one site that would most likely be studied is the Mount Greylock Regional School campus and one that would absolutely not be studied is the land where The Spruces had been located because of the restrictions on the use of that land by FEMA.
While committee member Phil McKnight expressed concern that it was too early in the process for the town to be asking for Community Preservation Act funding, particularly without a specific plan of what land would be studied and how much it would cost to study each parcel of land, Patton said she was worried that kind of "chicken or egg" thinking could slow down something that she said was desperately needed in town.
Calling it "shameful" that the town does not currently have more good fields, leading to the overuse of its existing fields, particularly those at Williamstown Elementary School, Patton said she was fine with leaving the flexibility in the hands of Hoch. After all, it was Hoch who identified the former Turner House as a potential space for a new police station -- something that was not on anyone's radar -- and was able to shepherd that project into the opening of a modern new space on Simonds Road this past summer.
"He's got spots he's thinking about. He's just not talking about it yet," she said. "I'm totally OK with that. ... We've gotta start somewhere."
The committee ended up unanimously approving the recommendation of this funding as well, with Hoch abstaining.