Emily Carroll '16 Contributing Writer
A chain-link fence currently encloses Pulaski Park in downtown Northampton. The scrim on the fence illustrates the park planners’ vision of the future -- people with Starbucks coffee cups and shopping bags, children playing and beautiful greenery.
Mayor David Narkewicz is hopeful that the re-design will reconnect the park to its intended uses.
“Pulaski park serves a green space, a gathering space, a concert venue, a space for Earth Day events, a free speech zone. It is really an all-purpose public space. However, the dated design does not make it conducive to those kinds of uses,” said the mayor.
“The park definitely feels like a bus stop and doesn’t really reflect Northampton now,” said Laura Krok-Horton ’17, a Northampton native.
“I just always regarded it as a kind of grimy place without much going for it. I feel like it always attracted a kind of sketchy crowd. It definitely was not a place that I hung out while in high school, and I’m pretty sure that my parents told me someone got mugged by the steps going down to the parking lot,” another Smith student who grew up in Northampton said.
Both students said that the park was only used on specific occasions, such as the Pulaski Day Parade.
“The one thing I really remember is going for the Pulaski Day parade when I was really young -- it is the Polish tradition. My mom would dress me up in a crazy outfit, and we would start at the church that is closed now and go through town and end up there,” Krok-Horton said.
Aside from these occasional events, it was never a very lively place, according to these students.
The plans for the Pulaski Park redesign were created after many meetings seeking input from wide-ranging community interests, including historic preservation.
“The designers took a historical look at the park and the city as an aspect of their design going back before it was a park and looking it to reconnect the park to some of the historical and ecological elements,” said Narkewicz. “For instance, they noted that the Mill River used to flow right next to the park site and are including an... element that is an ecological way to collect storm water.”
People who regularly use the space to wait for the bus are affected by the redesign process.
“I usually don’t stick around here very long. I come five to ten minutes before the bus is due to arrive, so I don’t really sit down or anything, but I am sure a lot of people are pissed. If I had to wait around for longer or had impairments to my mobility I would probably care more,” said Judy Fong, a Springfield resident who regularly uses the PVTA.
The project is on track to be completed by June 2016, according to City Engineers James Laurila and Narkewicz.
“The mild winter was helpful because it allowed much more work to be done, and phase one will be completed by the beginning of summer,” said Narkewicz.
Laurila said that the renovations on the park, the first since 1976, were made possible by state grants.
“The availability of state and local grant money made it feasible for the project to move forward at this time,” he said. “The funding of the project by the Northampton Community Preservation Committee was instrumental and needed to provide the match required for the state grant plus the balance of projects funds.”
“We got about $800,000 from state grants specifically designed for urban parks to complete this project. The rest of the funds come from the Community Preservation Act which is a tax collected through a special surcharge on everyone’s tax bill, so the rest of it will be funded with Northampton’s tax payer dollars,” said Narkewicz.
The redesign of the park will cost approximately $2.25 million. The project will be completed in two phases. Phase one costs $1.5 million, and phase two will cost approximately $750,000, according to Narcewicz.
The second phase still needs to find sources of funding, but residents will be able to enjoy the park before its completion.
“I am sure it will be nicer than before. I noticed there was a horse chestnut tree that used to be over there, and they cut it down, but I think there was something wrong with it, like it was diseased or something,” said Fong. “And the rest of the park was kind of looking long in the tooth. The benches were kind of decaying and needed paint, so I am sure the park will look better afterwards.”
“The most exciting part is my belief that the design of park improvements will be transformational for downtown. It will add elegance, beauty and functionality that did not exist with the old park,” said Laurila. “The new park will have so many different elements for all to enjoy.”