Proposed park would bolster Williston’s recreation offerings

March 6, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

The vast open space by Allen Brook School will likely soon be the home of baseball, soccer and lacrosse games, as well as other recreational activities.

A task force of the Recreation Commission presented plans for a new park to the Williston Selectboard on Feb. 25. The proposed park will encompass 20 acres, about 10 of which will include baseball diamonds, multi-use fields, tennis courts and a field house, according to Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan.

"We're in the preliminary stages right now," Finnegan said. "As a commission, we kind of knew what we needed and what we wanted. But the setup could change."

Currently, the only fields where school and private sports teams can play and practice are located behind Williston Central School.

According to Finnegan, the idea for using the land near Allen Brook had been floating around since 1996, when the land was donated to the town.

"It's something we've had our eye on for a while," he said.

The land is part of the Mahan Farm property that was used to develop Maple Tree Place and Allen Brook School.

In the last five years, the Recreation Commission had been seriously considering a park and was recently able to get a preliminary design worked out.

Lamoureux & Dickinson, consulting engineers from Essex, drew up the first set of plans. There will be space for three Little League fields, a Babe Ruth field and one softball field. Three multi-use fields — for soccer, field hockey and lacrosse — will also be built, along with two tennis courts.

There could also be space for picnic tables, restrooms, a small field house and a public sledding hill, Finnegan said. All of the facilities will be able to be accessed from Williston's Bike Path. A spur of the path may also connect with Talcott Road.

The area not used for recreation facilities will be set aside for wetlands preservation. The plans also take into account a possible expansion of the elementary school. Space has been set aside if more permanent classrooms must be built, as well as for additional parking, which could also be used for the new park.

Finnegan said the park would be a joint venture between the town and the school. Some of the facilities, like the tennis courts, would be on school property.

When the Mahan property was given to the town, there were some restrictions that went along with it. The fields next to Allen Brook are for "passive recreation only," meaning they can't be developed into "impermeable surfaces" like basketball and tennis courts, Finnegan added. Those facilities would be placed adjacent to the school on Allen Brook property.

The recreation department will have $165,000 for park development in the next fiscal year. The money will be used to finalize plans, apply for permits and begin the first stage of construction, which could begin next spring.

Selectboard chairman Terry Macaig said the board took a "favorable view" of the proposal. Despite concerns of cost and space, the Selectboard also understood the need for newer recreation fields.

"We know the town needs new fields and new recreation facilities as we continue to grow," Macaig said. "I would say the board was impressed with what we were shown."

Recreation Committee member Mike Healey said while the park is very much in the planning stage, he is glad to see steps in the right direction.

"It's very much a work in progress," he said. "I like calling it more of a work in process."

Updating the plans

Healey said the task force — comprised of committee members Healey, Tim O'Brien, Jana Hamrell, Allen Brook Principal John Terko, Public Works Director Neil Boyden and Finnegan — looked at national and state standards for recreation fields and found Williston needed updating.

"Getting our ball fields up to standards is a big thing," Healey said. "It was one of the holes we noticed."

Finnegan said with so many different groups using the fields behind Williston Central School, they tend to get "abused." The soccer fields, in particular, get overused, he said.

"We're stressed in terms of our park facilities," Finnegan said. "Our need is for our multi-use fields. We try every year to get grass seeded in the problem areas, like around the goal posts, but the playing season is so short."

Adding new multi-use fields would allow the recreation department to rotate fields to alleviate overuse, and give the department time and space for maintenance, Finnegan said.

Many private and public clubs use the fields behind Williston Central School as well, but sometimes the recreation department can't provide for all groups due to lack of space. This will change with the new park, he added.

Next steps

Both Finnegan and Healey would like to see the two multi-use fields and the Little League baseball diamond closest to Allen Brook built first, with the rest being added in future years.

Finnegan does not have an estimate on the total cost of the new park since a final plan has not yet been developed.

At the Selectboard's urging, Finnegan and members of the Recreation Committee will meet with Town Planner Lee Nellis and Conservation Commissioner Carrie Deegan to discuss the plans. Finnegan said Nellis has ideas about how to change some of the field design for better traffic flow. From there, the committee will start working on a possible new design.

"Once we get the conceptual design, we'll start applying for permits," Finnegan said.