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Work underway at Conway ballfield

CONWAY — Water-logged baseball games and muddy festivals at Conway’s town ballfield may soon be a thing of the past, now that work to fix storm water drainage issues on the property has officially begun this week — after a long and complicated process.

The improvements will be performed by Mass-West Construction and will include a lowered parking area off of Academy Hill Road, new walkways and stairways to increase accessibility, and relocation of the tennis and basketball courts.

“The aesthetics and accessibility of the field will be greatly improved, getting us up to (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards,” said David Beaudet, the chairman of the town’s Parks, Recreation and Trails Committee.

According to Beaudet, the project began in 2011 when voters at the annual town meeting approved spending $5,000 to study ways to fix or improve the drainage problems that have plagued the field for years.

“The youth sports season and the Festival of the Hills have had to deal with several inches of standing water on the field for years, which created difficult playing situations — and was a breeding ground for mosquitoes,” he said.

The study eventually concluded that carrying out the necessary repairs would cost a substantial amount of money. According to Beaudet, the town would need to secure money from grants to pull it off, but applying for them required having the final project designs and the proper permits lined up and ready to go.

At the 2012 town meeting, voters approved another $90,000 to purchase engineering and permitting services to bring the project up to grant-worthy status. The town subsequently applied for a MassWorks grant, but did not receive it that year. After redesigning and improving the plans, the town reapplied for the same grant in 2013 and received it that November.

Beaudet said the project went out to bid shortly after, but the bids came back priced higher than the town could afford.

“We restructured it and sent it back out, and when it came back that time we needed about $200,000 to complete the project,” he said. To raise the extra money, the town applied for a second, nonmatching grant of $197,000, but was denied.

At a special town meeting in June, voters approved using $200,000 of Community Preservation Act money to cover the rest of the project.

Beaudet said he is excited that the project has finally broken ground.

“It’s pretty exciting to be able to do such a big improvement for the town with money from grants and the final $200,000 coming from CPA funds,” Beaudet said. “It’s a great use of CPA funds and the taxpayers won’t see any increase.”

“It’s great to finally have it started,” said Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson. “There were problems with the first bid, so we had to re-bid. All the (grant) money has to be spent by the end of the year, so we were getting a little nervous.”

Hutcheson said he is looking forward to having the field’s problems solved and hopes the improved park will become a regional attraction, with the enhanced accessibility and parking situation drawing visitors who will spend time in the town’s downtown area.

“We’re hoping to increase the value of it regionally to bring people into town. We want to enhance our position in between the other towns and this will be yet another reason for people to stop,” said Hutcheson, noting other attractions in town such as the Conway Inn, Page’s coffee bar and bookstore, and the Field Library.

“All in all, it’s getting a major facelift,” he said.

Beaudet said the project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

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