MANCHESTER — Initial project plans to upgrade the town's recreational fields are nearing completion, and the public is invited to provide input on the work done so far.

This Thursday, Oct. 3, the Manchester Parks and Recreation Department will host an open forum with members of Weston and Sampson Design Studio on the proposed updates to Pine Street, Sweeney Park and Masconomo Park. It will be held at 6:30 p.m., at Town Hall, Room 5. 

"We need more space," said Parks and Recreation Director Cheryl Marshall  of the outdoor recreational spaces in town. "We're turning away leagues like lacrosse, flag football and Junior Hornets football. Plus, (the field at Sweeney Park) is so wet that you can't use it for half the year." 

Back in 2018, Parks and Recreation received $20,000 from the town's capital fund to assess the needs of the athletic fields in town. Weston and Sampson was hired to conduct a grounds study at each outdoor facility. The study found:

The Masconomo Park backstop and dugouts were in "poor condition," drainage in the outfield had some issues and the pathway into the softball diamond was not accessible by Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. Making these changes would cost around $308,475.

The Sweeney Park baseball and softball fields were in "fair to poor condition." The plan is to reformat the softball diamond into a 280- by 180-foot open field. If natural turf is used, the project could cost $405,000 without factoring in an irrigation system. Synthetic turf could balloon the budget up to $1,282,500. In addition, Weston and Sampson estimated the costs of installing a bathroom facility at $472,500. 

On Pine Street, enough time has passed for the old landfill, situated off Exit 16 from Route 128, to be safely used as a town-owned lot. Two different options are being considered by Parks and Recreation — constructing a 240- by- 150-foot open space or a softball diamond with space in left field for a soccer field. Option one is estimated to cost $722,250; option two is pegged at $769,500. Both scenarios include a parking lot with 35 spaces.

These initial plans will be finalized by December. The next step is to seek funding. The Parks and Recreation Committee will pursue capital funds and Community Preservation Act grants, although state law limits these grants from covering synthetic turf costs. The committee will also organize a way for residents to submit private donations when the projects become more fleshed out.

Although Weston and Sampson looked at the recreational spaces around Memorial Elementary School, including Coach Ed Field field and the tennis courts, there are no plans in place to rehabilitate them at this time. Marshall said any improvements made to the school fields will need to be made in tandem with the Manchester Essex Regional School District. Right now, the district is focused on the new Memorial Elementary School building project; early construction is underway.  

Earlier this year, a public survey was conducted to gauge the recreational needs of residents. Of the 131 who participated in the survey, 75 said the town's public facilities "need improvement." The top three areas parks could better facilitate were "walking/jogging," "playground" and "biking." When asked which recreation facilities the town should have more of, soccer fields received the most votes followed by lacrosse and baseball fields.

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

IF YOU GO

What: An open forum with members of Weston and Sampson Design Studio on  proposed updates to Pine Street Park, Sweeney Park and Masconomo Park in Manchester.

When: Thursday, Oct. 3, at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Room 5, Manchester Town Hall, 10 Central St.

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