Park construction could start by spring2/5/09

Feb. 5, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

With Williston’s recreation fields taxed to their limit during the spring, summer and fall sports seasons, relief may be on the way with the creation of a planned park and fields behind Allen Brook School.

The park, which has been in the works for years, is taking a step closer to reality this month. Recreation Department Director Kevin Finnegan said the project could be ready to go by this spring or summer if all goes according to plan.

The department is scheduled to present plans to the Development Review Board on Feb. 24 for a pre-application permit. Since some of the park is on Allen Brook’s property, the school district is listed as a co-applicant.

While the park will most likely be completed in phases stretching over a number of years, Finnegan said it is very much one large project.

“When we go for a permit, we’re going to permit for a complete design,” Finnegan said.

As it stands now, the plans call for new recreation paths, soccer and baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts.

Finnegan said a “very conservative estimate” for the park’s construction cost would be $1.9 million. Since recreation funds are limited, Finnegan expects the project to be completed in phases when money is available. Currently, the department has just under $200,000 for the first phase, which would cover the two fields for lacrosse and soccer. Phased construction could continue until 2015, Finnegan said.

The property’s former owner, Michael Gurdon, donated the land — better known as the Mahan Farm — to the town in 1996. In a deal that allowed the development of Maple Tree Place, the rest of the property could only be used for town services and passive recreation. The school and fire station were developed on the Mahan Farm in accordance with the agreement, and the park will be the final piece.

Plans and layout

Current plans include a new access road branching out from the current road into the school, which would wind its way out towards the recreation fields. Two fields for lacrosse and soccer would be on the west side of the access road, near neighboring homes on Isham Circle. A third, all-purpose field is also being proposed. Room has been left in the plans for a possible expansion of the school, if that ever happens.

At the end of the road will be a Babe Ruth baseball field, a smaller Little League baseball field and one softball field. Bathrooms, a picnic shelter and playgrounds will also be built adjacent to those fields.

A new recreation path will wind its way between the baseball and soccer fields. The original bike path through the property would follow along with the proposed access road. There is also room in the plans for a recreation path bridge over the Circumferential Highway, if and when that is ever completed.

Finnegan has brought the current plans before the neighboring Isham Circle residents in recent months to get opinions.

“The neighbors I met with, their biggest concern was the basketball courts,” Finnegan said, referring to possible late night noise and lighting issues.

One basketball court and two tennis courts, both equipped with lighting, were originally planned to be built near Isham Circle, but have now moved to the north side of Allen Brook. That location could change again depending on a decision from the Development Review Board in regards to where a permanent solution for the school’s temporary classrooms would end up.

As for parking at the new fields, plans call for expanding the current Allen Brook parking lot, as well as adding a handful of spaces on the access road. The spaces closest to the fields would be handicap accessible.

Public Works Director Neil Boyden said he doesn’t expect to run out of parking during events at the fields. He said the peak use for the school and the park fall at different times.

“It works the same at the (Williston Central) school,” Boyden said.

Finnegan said he’s also looking to put the park on a list of projects that are “shovel ready” for the anticipated federal stimulus package. He said the park would be an important educational and municipal project to be considered under the planned package. It could mean the park is completed much faster than anticipated.

“That’s part of the reason we’re pushing this,” Finnegan said.

The project still has to clear the Act 250 permit process, the state’s environmental land use permit, though Finnegan doesn’t anticipate any problems. If all goes well, construction on the park could begin this spring.