Master plan to guide Amherst playing fields

Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 12, 2017

AMHERST — Heavy use of playing fields at the Amherst Regional High and Middle schools, and how to keep them in playable shape throughout the year, is a long-standing concern for town and school officials.

The constant demands on the athletic fields is prompting an $80,000 study that will evaluate the existing conditions and develop a strategic plan for improvements that will benefit those who use them, from athletes to spectators.

Town Meeting this spring will be asked to combine $50,000 from the Community Preservation Act account with $30,000 from the public schools to hire a landscape architect to look at a range of issues, from enhancing access and parking to improving the playing surfaces.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said such a study is long overdue as there is an awareness that significant improvements are needed to the numerous fields in and around the schools, which have little time to recover from constant use for sports that include soccer, football, Ultimate, baseball, softball and lacrosse. Other recreation sites near town center are also aging, with the track that surrounds the lacrosse field, for instance, expected to be come unusable for high school competition in the near future.

The Amherst Center Recreation Working Group has spent the past year examining all town- or school-owned sports fields, tennis and basketball courts, running tracks and outdoor recreational facilities in and near downtown.

But Ziomek told the Select Board that professional expertise is needed to go beyond getting an inventory. A consultant would look at whether realignment or reconfiguration of fields is necessary and could benefit the sports, whether turf or grass should be used for the surfaces and if restrooms and seating can be installed.

There are also issues at Community Field, off Triangle Street near the high school. On the lower part, War Memorial Pool was renovated in 2012, but the pool remains surrounded by a cracked basketball court, a playground with few pieces of equipment and a seeded-over area where a dilapidated wading pool was removed in 2015. The upper part of Community Field features the high school football, baseball and softball fields.

Select Board Chairwoman Alisa Brewer said during the study there will need to be public input in the process and opportunities to offer comments.

Ziomek said this would be the case, with coaches, parents and students all being involved.

“We want that to be an open and transparent process,” Ziomek said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.