PITTSFIELD — The city is home to nearly 1,313 acres of parks and conservation land. In recent years, Pittsfield leaders have been focused on plans for 246 of those acres in particular — the land that makes up Springside Park.
Calls for renovations to the park’s existing buildings and features and new proposals for recreational uses have produced conversations on how the city’s “gem” should be used and protected.
The next mayor of Pittsfield will see the city through a planned multimillion dollar renovation of the Springside House, which for years was the center of recreation life in the city.
The Berkshire Eagle recently asked mayoral candidates John Krol and Peter Marchetti about the future they envision for the park and whether they’ll focus on a conservation or development approach to other parklands in Pittsfield.
The Berkshire Eagle's second in a series of video debates between Pittsfield mayoral candidates John Krol and Peter Marchetti. In this episode, the candidates answer questions about Springside Park, taxes, each other's campaigns, and more.
More questions and answers from The Eagle’s second sit-down with the candidates will be published in the coming days. To watch a full video of the meeting, click here.
Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.
THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE: Springside Park has had a bevy of activity in the last several years with proposals for a bike skills course, a co-op farm and with the ongoing project to renovate the Springside House and the construction of a pickleball court. How do city park lands fit in your vision for the city and what plans, if any, do you have for changes to the parks?
JOHN KROL: One thing that is a true gem in the city of Pittsfield are our parks, in particular Springside Park. So when we talk about the draws to our city, Springside Park has to be utilized in that way. So yes, it's a delicate balance between what are the natural resources that we need to protect and also a lot of the uses that we've seen over the years and many of those are certainly proposed.
First and foremost, we have an issue with Springside Park where we have an encampment there with individuals who are living in Springside Park. So when my administration begins, what we are going to do is take all the proper steps to make sure those individuals have all services available to them, but ultimately they need to not be in Springside Park. I think in order to see Springside Park have its full potential, that encampment needs to be removed and we need to get services for those individuals to allow the park to see its potential.
In regard to pickleball: I know that it's a growing sport in the city of Pittsfield and elsewhere. There was a lot of support behind it, that is moving ahead. And certainly we hope that is a success. There's no question about that.
As far as the skills course: that's another organization that is working very, very hard to create this. I understand that there's a lot of funding that they require to raise in order for that to happen. Ultimately, the Parks Commission is in support of it and I have no reason to say that that's not a good idea.
I think when we bring wonderful things to the city that can have young people and families attracted to it, that is a good thing for our city. Springside Park: While there are natural resources that are very vital to us, there's also been a long history of these kinds of uses at Springside Park.
PETER MARCHETTI: So first, as a person who grew up in Springside Park as a neighborhood park, I still remember the wading pool and the pond that were there. So clearly, in my days sitting on the Morningside Initiative, the reestablishment of the Springside pond and the renovation of that is critical to Springside Park.
Springside Park and all our other city parks need to be utilized. We need to be investing into our city parks. We need to make sure that they have the recreational spaces that we read about as a community of Pittsfield and a community of Berkshire County. Parks need to become a priority in terms of funding and to make sure that we're caring for them in the direction that we have. The piece of parks — you know, we have two gorgeous lakes, we have Burbank Park — and when we know that people are going to our parks and you can't utilize the restrooms, that policy needs to change because families are taking their children to parks for some recreation.
I supported the pickleball process moving forward. And in terms of the encampments in Springside Park, I've been talking about this since April on the campaign. It's not just the encampments in Springside Park, it’s the encampments across the city. Those folks need help. We need to double down on our mental health and substance use disorder services and ensure that the people are getting the services they need. We need to continue our efforts of building additional affordable housing. And we know that we have the White Terrace apartments that are being developed at the moment and a second one that's transitional housing that is coming.
So those are our resources that we need and the parks need to be encampment free, but we need to focus on allowing our families to get back to the parks and utilize them for what they’re worth.
KROL: Springside Park is near and dear to me as it was the home course for Pittsfield High School cross-country. I know every trail at Springside Park and it certainly is a true gem.
One thing that we're working on and has been worked on — that my dear friend, Chris Yon, back many years ago started — was the revitalization of the Springside House. I think when we look at this property and look at that house, we’ve got to be thinking about that as possibly even a revenue source —because we've seen many other types of properties in the Berkshires utilized as an event location for weddings and for other kinds of events. The Springside House is something that we can utilize, we can work with a caterer and we can work through a process that ultimately would make that a draw — not only to the Berkshires, but also for Pittsfield specifically, as a location that would actually drive some revenue to the city.
That's the way we have to be thinking. We have to be thinking entrepreneurially, as it relates to our parks and our entire city.
MARCHETTI: In reference to the Springside Park, it's not ‘we have to be thinking’ and ‘it needs to be revenue generating;’ we're already thinking that as we're developing plans for the Springside Park renovation. So it's not a case of thinking about it — we're already planning that as we're doing the renovation.
I think the other piece to really double-down on with all of our parks — and not just our parks but our conservation properties — we need to ensure, like we need to ensure with all our buildings, that we stop the policy of deferring maintenance and repair the things that need to be repaired. Our parks should not have 15-year-old swing sets; they should have brand new equipment and we should maintain our equipment to the top level that the people of Pittsfield deserve.
Up next: The candidates talk about city debt, taxes and the bills residents pay for city services.