Reading, MA — Mark Novak, Design Principal for Activitas, presented a preliminary master plan for the Birch Meadow complex to the Recreation Committee on Wednesday, November 18. This presentation was a significant step forward for an issue that has been discussed at length in town for years.
Developed after months of meetings with stakeholders and input from the public via online surveys, Novak stated that this initial design seeks to “translate the collective vision for Birch Meadow into something graphic.” He also suggested that the plan is a “framework to create a roadmap for future expansion” and that the proposed work could be done in a five to ten-year time period. The plan’s goal is to mitigate several identified challenges to the area, including drainage, parking, storage, limited use of Castine Field, the lack of trails and walkways, and the overuse of some fields, and the under-utilization of other fields.
Novak suggested three “buckets” of improvements to help define the urgency of need. The first he referred to as the “Critical Bucket,” allocates money for maintenance, safety issues, life-cycle replacement, and repair of existing facilities. In this bucket, Novak proposes a central walkway that extends from Castine Field to the high school, including pedestrian lighting, a building with restrooms and concessions located in the center of the complex, and a lacrosse wall.
This “bucket” also includes a parking upgrade paving the “Imagination Station” parking area, thereby creating marked spaces and constructing proper wastewater management. Wetlands improvements to the Aberjona River adjacent to the parking area are also part of the parking lot plan. The final piece of the “Critical Bucket” is the replacement of the stadium turf field and track, which, according to Novak, is “at the end of its useful life.”
The “Sustainable Bucket” of improvements provides money for strategic changes, including a new parking lot adjacent to the Higgins conservation area across Birch Meadow Drive from Castine Field. The basketball court would be moved to a spot next to the field house parking lot. Eight new dedicated pickleball courts, a playground, and smaller walkways around the complex are also included in this plan. Additionally, minor improvements to Morton Field, the ropes course, and the varsity softball field are included in this “bucket” and a small expansion of the “RISE” parking lot.
The final improvements proposed by Novak were referred to as the “Visionary Bucket” and are “transformational changes to how Birch Meadow is used.” These include a new turf field behind Coolidge Middle School for soccer, lacrosse, and softball. A sizeable multipurpose turf field next to Imagination Station would consist of a space for football, soccer, or lacrosse that separates two softball fields, which could then be used simultaneously.
All field areas addressed in the plan would receive enhanced lighting and improved storage solutions. No changes were proposed for the Castine Field area except for some wetlands enhancement as the field falls within the wetlands exclusion zone.
Initial reaction to the plan was positive, with Recreation Committee member Richard Hand referring to the plan as “well thought out,” informing Novak that the overwhelming number of comments in the “chat” were positive.
Activitas is scheduled to update the Select Board on the Birch Meadow Master Plan at the December 8 meeting. The Recreation Committee adjourned at 8:35 pm.