Select Board Considers Birch Meadow Improvements

Reading, MA — Mark Novak, a consultant from Activitas, presented an updated master plan for the Birch Meadow complex to the Select Board on February 2. The plan, which has been developed over the course of the past year, includes improved lighting, a restroom/concession building, improved walkways, and enhanced parking areas.

Novak presented the plan in three zones of improvement. The northernmost zone includes a new artificial turf field behind Coolidge Middle School that combines two softball fields with one soccer/lacrosse field. Parking at the former site of the Imagination Station will be formalized with improved drainage and improvements to the wetlands that include the Aberjona River.

The “heart of the site” will be a new artificial turf field with two softball fields and one soccer field with lighting, batting cages, team areas, and storage. A new open passive recreation space would be included between this new field and the current turf two field. A new restroom building with a pavilion for concessions is also planned for the complex’s center, with a new lacrosse wall built nearby.

The plan calls for a new drop-off/turn-around area at the end of Bancroft Avenue near Morton Field in the southern zone. The existing playground would be recreated with a larger footprint, eight pickleball courts and two basketball courts would also be added. Morton Field, the tennis courts, and the little league field would all receive minor improvements, as would the high school ropes course. 

Novak also shared that an improved system of lighted paths would be added to passive recreation, which would be highlighted by a new “central spine” that would connect Birch Meadow Drive to the RISE parking lot.

Novak anticipates three phases of the project; the first phase, which he referred to as the “critical” phase, includes the “central spine,” the parking and drainage improvements at the former Imagination Station, the restroom building, and the repair and replacement of the stadium turf and track at Reading Memorial High School.

“Sustainable” improvements include the trail improvements, wayfinding signage, a new parking area on Birch Meadow Drive, the basketball and pickleball courts, and the improved playground. 

Improvements referred to as “visionary” are the two new synthetic fields.

The Recreation Committee has already voted to begin the process to move forward on what Novak called the “potential first project.” This would be construction of the 1,140 foot long “central spine” with pedestrian lights and the restroom/concession pavilion. Novak stated that this first project “hits on major elements the community wants.”

The Recreation Committee will seek to reach out and share its plans with the School Committee with the goal of adding this first project to the capital plan at November Town Meeting.

Conservation Administrator Charles Tirone presented plans for updating the town’s open space master plan, which began in earnest with a community meeting the night before. Next steps for the seven-year plan will be to compile input from the meeting on Monday and outreach for continued stakeholder input. A draft plan will be presented in the spring. 

Tirone also discussed transferring the Maillet conservation property from Select Board control to the Conservation Commission. This would combine the property with other Conservation Commission property in the area, easing the process for maintenance and upgrades to the property. Tirone cited the multiple permissions needed to create trails through the property this past year. Processes such as these could be streamlined if only one board had oversight of the area. The Select Board will vote on the change at an upcoming meeting.

Director of Public Works Jane Kinsella walked the board through proposed updates to the policy to maintain trees on conservation land. Questions were asked regarding input into the policy from the Trails Committee and the Town Forest Committee as portions of the policy mention those groups. Efforts will be made to reach out to these committees before a vote on the policy.

Select Board member Karen Herrick raised questions to Town Manager Robert LeLacheur regarding specific information on two issues, the public problems that arose between some police officers and some teachers in town, and the issue of the discipline of a police officer for events that occurred on election day. LeLacheur responded that Herrick’s inquiries to him on the second issue had been sent to the police department as a public records request. Some of the specific information requested was not appropriate for discussion in a public session. He also shared that both he and Superintendent John Doherty had addressed the first issue with public statements and that he was not aware of any continuing issues.

The Select Board voted 5-0 to establish an ad-hoc Parking Advisory Recommendation Committee, which will assess options for improving parking in the downtown area and report back to the board with recommended plans for improvement.

The Select Board adjourned at 10:30 pm.

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