Work on North Common rehab resumes this week in Amherst

Work resumed this week on the $1.79 million overhaul of North Common in Amherst. The project is expected to be done this summer.

Work resumed this week on the $1.79 million overhaul of North Common in Amherst. The project is expected to be done this summer. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-01-2024 11:50 AM

AMHERST — An overhaul of the greenspace in front of Town Hall and removal of the adjacent 34-space parking lot resumed this week, with the $1.79 million North Common project on track to be completed this summer.

Crews from Caracas Construction of Ludlow on Monday returned from a break that began in January to start up the work. Workers will be there weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A significant amount of work has already been done, including installation of drainage last fall, construction of some retaining, sitting walls and granite curbs, and removal of the Merry Maple tree.

Remaining elements are mostly related to landscaping, such as planting of new trees and seeding disturbed areas, placement of lights, installation of concrete pavers for a raised plaza outside Town Hall along Boltwood Avenue and construction of walking paths throughout the .75-acre site.

The final concept for restoring and activating the North Common, developed by the Department of Public Works, was finalized in 2021 and approved by the Town Council, with some support from the business community. Among improvements will be making the site fully handicapped accessible, honoring the history of the common and addressing erosion that exposes tree roots.

Last week, the Design Review Board made a series of recommendations associated with the various site furnishings, such as signs, bollards and benches and tables, as well as for the surface of the walking paths, with a preference for crushed stone or oil and stone for the inner park walkways and for the Planning Department to research the cost and maintenance implications.

While board members supported having Goshen stone used on informal walking areas, they expressed concern about the asphalt for the main walking area, with a preference for oil and stone to be used instead.

“It looks so much more appealing than asphalt,” said member Karin Winter.

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Winter said if this is cost prohibitive, then asphalt could be used, even with the panel’s strong recommendation against. “This is really a central, the aesthetic kernel of our town, that we really try to get it as right as possible,” Winter said.

Senior Planner Nate Malloy said planners had considered oil and stone going over an asphalt base. “It probably was budgetary reasons that it was removed, (but) it could have been maintenance,” Malloy said.

Board member Lindsay Schnarr said crushed stone would be her preferred surface.

But any sort of loose and crushed stone would be problematic due to the slopes and maintenance of the finished work, said Planning Director Christine Brestrup.

“I would advise against crushed stone on these walkways,” Brestrup said.

Board member Catharine Porter said while she is sympathetic and understands that asphalt may not look good, the board has to be realistic. “We’re pretty advanced in the scheme of this park, now to try to revamp some of the materials maybe asking a little too much,” Porter said.

Malloy said the completed site will include a dozen or so benches, with seating for about 30 people in the central area.

The metal benches will have similar ornamentation to those used at Groff Park and Kendrick Park. Lighting similar to what is used in town roundabouts and at Kendrick Park, with an acorn light at the top and an interior glazing.

The project is funded by Community Preservation Act money and a state Land and Water Conservation Fund grant.

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