Study Lays Out Vision For Recreation Fields

by Ryan Bray
The field area along Eldredge Park Way was the subject of a study completed in November by the recreation advisory committee in Orleans.  RYAN BRAY PHOTO The field area along Eldredge Park Way was the subject of a study completed in November by the recreation advisory committee in Orleans. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – All the recreation advisory committee wanted was lighting for an outdoor basketball court near Nauset Regional Middle School.

Tracy Murphy, the committee’s chair, recalled to the select board April 24 that the project was one of the first initiatives the committee undertook upon its formation in 2019. But while Community Preservation Act money was secured for a design study, she said the project proved “unworkable” due to issues with the site’s topography and future plans to sewer the property.

“We were disappointed but not surprised,” Murphy said. “Land for recreation use in Orleans is limited.”

But through that failed process, an effort to take a holistic look at the Eldredge Park Way property and how it might be redesigned for the town’s future recreational needs was born.

With help from the engineering firm Weston and Sampson, the committee studied the fields and presented its findings to the select board last week. In it, the committee lays out a phased plan for upgrading the existing recreational facilities on the property, which is shared by the middle school, Orleans Elementary School, the town and the nonprofit Nauset Together We Can, which oversees the skate park.

Funding for the fields study was approved through annual town meeting in 2022, and Murphy said work was completed last November. The study identified a number of existing problems, from limited access to fields, courts and other facilities to a bandstand in need of renovation, limited parking, poor lighting and a track with inconsistent surfaces and elevations.

Brandon Kunkel of Weston and Sampson also addressed environmental and topography issues on the existing site. He said there are “steep slopes” on the property, including those leading down to Boland Pond. There are also upward slopes extending from Eldredge Park to the middle school parking area, he said.

“The regional middle school field area is relatively flat, but it still sits below the street area at Eldredge Park Way. So there is some topography there that can be addressed.” Kunkel said there are also slopes at the adjacent Orleans Fire Department leading down to the field area, as well as at the elementary school.

As proposed, the renovated field space would include a new six-lane track with bleachers that can accommodate 1,300 people; three baseball diamonds; four pickleball courts; two new basketball courts; six multipurpose fields; 75 additional parking spaces for a total of 320; a 4,000-square-foot addition to the skate park and a renovated playground with new multipurpose play area.

Murphy said the study placed an emphasis on creating facilities that are “youth friendly.”

“We wanted to build a design that would help to build community for people of all ages through improved organization, clear sight lines from one recreational element to another and a focus on multifunctional spaces,” she said.

The improvements are slated to be spread out across five phases extending from Eldredge Park west to the elementary school. The first phase, which involves the bandstand renovation as well as construction of the multipurpose play area and the two new lighted basketball courts, is estimated to cost approximately $5.6 million.

Elements of the project can be “addressed and modified over time as funding becomes available,” Murphy said.

“This is a project that will take many years, but can be modified as we go,” she said. “The spaces are flexible, the phases are flexible. There could be smaller projects within the phases, so that, we think, is a real strength.”

Two tennis courts will be offline between the first two phases, Murphy said. But the recreation committee hasn’t abandoned the idea of using town land on Bay Ridge Lane at the site of the former public works highway building for additional court space. An article seeking funding to study the use of the property failed at the annual town meeting last spring, but Murphy said with the completed field study, the committee is hopeful that voters might now be more amenable to exploring the property’s use.

“We have that plan now, and we should act on it and make Bay Ridge a part of it,” she told the select board.

Connectivity is also a focus of the field plan, which also includes walking trails out to neighboring environmental areas and space for spectators to watch games. Kunkel said the fields could also possibly allow for space for community gardening.

“This really is intended to be a community-wide gathering place, whether it be for active recreation or more passive recreation,” he said.

When completed, Murphy said, the hope is that the renovated field area will serve as “a hub for all interests, ages and abilities in Orleans.”

“I look forward to seeing a pile of backpacks next to the basketball courts on weekday afternoons and multi-age pickup games on Sunday evenings instead of pickleball players finding their beautiful courts overrun by sandy toddlers on scooters.”

Murphy concluded her presentation by asking that the select board help to publicly advertise the field plan, potentially through a community information session, and that the town work to include the plan in its five-year capital improvement plan. More immediately, she also asked for the select board’s support in moving ahead with the first phase of work.

Andrea Reed of the select board applauded what she saw as the committee’s effort to put together a cohesive vision for the field space through the study, likening the thought and planning to that involved in the town’s wastewater planning.

“It’s phased, it’s intelligent,” she said. “It does away with landlines and looks at the value of community life and investment in our town for the future.”

Other board members echoed that praise, but Mark Mathison suggested that the baseball diamond neighboring town hall also be included in the committee’s scope of work.

“Absolutely, I think that makes perfect sense,” Murphy said.

In terms of funding, Mefford Runyon of the select board noted that it will need to be determined how the project cost will be shared between the various entities. Murphy said the committee also plans to apply for funding through the Community Preservation Act to help finance the work.

Town Manager Kim Newman said the first phase would be the town’s responsibility to finance, and she expressed optimism about the town’s ability to do so.

“What’s really great about this plan…is the first phase is really the town’s commitment to this going forward,” she said. “And I really do think that it’s achievable in a short turnaround.” Newman also voiced her support for adding the project to the capital improvement plan.

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