Funding For New Bleachers, Pier Deck Among $1.8 Million In CPA Requests

By: Tim Wood

The town and the Chatham Athletic Association are seeking $450,000 in community preservation funds to replace aging bleachers at Veterans Field, one of more than a dozen projects seeking CPA funds this year. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM – New bleachers at Veterans Field, replacement of the fish pier observation deck, restoration of a downtown memorial and preservation of town records are among more than a dozen projects seeking Community Preservation Act funds this year.

This year's CPA requests total $1,845,075, with the largest amounts for recreation projects. Six requests in that category from town departments and other agencies seek a total of $1,274,075. There are funding requests in two other categories: affordable housing, totaling $330,000, and historical preservation, with $121,000 in requests. No open space funds are being requested this year, but $105,000 will be set aside in reserve for future land purchases.

There's more than enough money available to accommodate all the requests. This year's assessment from the 3 percent CPA property tax surcharge will be about $900,000, Finance Director Alix Heilala said, with another $150,000 coming from the state. There is also $1.5 million in reserve, bringing the total of available CPA funds to $2.6 million.

“We don't have to spend it all,” community preservation committee chairman Michael Tompsett said. The only obligation is to allocate 10 percent of the year's CPA revenue to each of four categories – open space, affordable housing, historical preservation and recreation.

In two meetings over the past several weeks, the committee heard presentations from proponents on the merits of the projects. The group will now deliberate before making recommendation to voters at the May 14 annual town meeting.

The single largest request this year is for $450,000 to replace the bleachers and safety netting at Veterans Field. The joint project between the town and the Chatham Athletic Association will cost a total of $531,000; CPA funding will cover about 75 percent, with the association providing up to $100,000 to cover the rest. If the funding is approved, construction would begin right after Labor Day, said Park and Recreation Director Dan Tobin.

“The field would be somewhat out of use in the fall,” he said.

The town is seeking $662,500 in waterways-related recreation funding. The majority of that, $400,000, is for the replacement of the fish pier observation deck. The full cost of the project is estimated at $1.2 million; there is a previous town appropriation of $590,000, and the omnibus waterfront bond approved last year will make up the difference. The deck has “taken a beating” over the years, and as one of the town's biggest tourist attractions needs to be upgraded, said Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson.

“It's gotten a lot of use,” he said, with more than 100,000 people watching fishermen unload their catches from above every summer. “And it's in an absolutely terrible location” due to the harsh waterfront conditions. The replacement deck will be larger, built of more sturdy materials and accessible, with a second stairway and elevator to accommodate people with disabilities.

There was some question among committee members about whether the request fit the recreation category. It was decided to seek an opinion from the state department of revenue.

The second waterfront project is a $262,500 request for purchase land for water access on Bridge Street. The town has leased the boat launching ramp and small parking area, which are part of a larger residential parcel, for decades, said Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon. A new owner recently purchased the land and agreed to sell the town 19,000 square feet of land, 8,500 square feet of which is upland and includes the ramp and space for about eight vehicles. The town has a purchase and sales agreement for $227,500; the additional money being requested will be used to complete a subdivision plan and address shoreline erosion at the location, he said.

“It's a very popular way to access this portion of the Mitchell River system,” and is used primarily by shellfishermen, Keon said. “You really can't get there from anywhere else.”

The town is also seeking $3,000 to restore the Pioneer Memorial in front of the Eldredge Public Library. The work is part of a larger project to renovate and improve the front lawn area of the Main Street library; the monument restoration is the only aspect that qualifies for CPA funding, said Principal Projects Administrator Terry Whalen. The monument, which lists the name of the town's founding families, will be repaired and restored and placed within a new wall that will separate the front lawn from the sidewalk. The larger project will be the subject of a capital funding article at the May town meeting.

Other historical preservation projects include $50,000 to assess the condition and preserve antennas on the Marconi historic site; and $48,000 to complete an archaeological dig at the Nickerson Family Association property in North Chatham. Association representative Ronald Nickerson said the project already identified the site of the original homestead of Nickerson patriarch William Nickerson, the area's first European settler.

Town Clerk Julie Smith is also asking for $20,000 to preserve vital town record books. Over the past quarter centuries, she's been preserving the volumes that record the town's births, deaths, marriages and other vital records using a $3,000 annual line item in her budget. To date about 70 books have been preserved. The CPA funds will cover restoration of another 20 of the 25 or so remaining. She explained the books are preserved page by page by a preservation company, which de-acidifies the paper, reconstructs tears or other damage and laminates each page in mylar. Without the CPA funding, it will take much longer to complete the project, she said.

“The longer it takes to restore the books, the more deterioration, the more they're going to break down,” she said. “Once those records are gone, the history of your town is gone.”

Affordable housing requests include $100,000 for the town's affordable housing trust fund; $5,000 to be combined with a previous $25,000 CPA appropriation for an affordable housing coordinator to be shared with another community (probably Harwich); and $10,000 to update the town's housing production plan.

The housing authority is seeking $200,000 to buy down the sale price of affordable homes with an older deed restriction that is based on market value, not area median income, as are more recent restrictions. Under the older deed rider, the resale price can exclude many buyers who otherwise qualify for affordable housing. The amount could help lower the price on two to four homes.

Other CPC requests include $65,000 to replace artificial grass at fourth hole tees at the town-owned Seaside Links Golf Course; $6,575 to supplement last year's CPC appropriation for other tee and path improvements at the course; and $90,000 for an accessible path in Chase Park.

The committee is scheduled to meet next Monday, Jan. 29, to begin discussing and voting on the applications.