Park master plan preserves feel of Andover green  

A crowd gathers in The Park for Andover's recent Memorial Day observances. A new master plan approved for the town common looks to preserve the war monuments there, while also improving seating, lighting and shade areas as well as creating a passive recreation spot for unstructured play. 

ANDOVER — After months of concerns over the future of the war memorials at The Park, a final master plan that won approval last week is being heralded for both honoring the monuments while allowing for updates to the popular town common.

Veterans Director Michael Burke commended Senior Planner Lisa Schwarz for a job well done after the Planning Board unanimously approved a future blueprint for the 20.4-acre parcel at the intersection of Bartlet and Chestnut streets.

For well over a year, Schwarz has been working to create a master plan for The Park. But early on, she ran into some pushback from veterans concerned that a proposed child’s play area would detract from the four war memorials that now occupy the town common.

Burke and several other veterans in town said The Park should remain a place for memorializing the 85 Andover residents who lost their lives serving the country throughout the 20th century.

The final plan does that. While the long-range blueprint calls for a passive recreation area at The Park, if any play equipment is in the area’s future, those attractions will be located at the adjacent play area and ballfields.

“Thank you for letting us have an opportunity to speak, and thank you for putting our concerns at ease that the playground would be kept in the playstead,” Burke said.

The Park is now home to a World War I Howitzer cannon captured by American forces, which was placed there in 1932. Three more monuments were dedicated between 2004 and 2008 — a World War II monument in the northeast corner, a Vietnam War monument on the east side and a Korean War monument on the southeast corner.

The war memorials and monuments will all remain in their current locations, according to the plan. However, officials will look at bringing more access and awareness to them in the future. A small area, called a “memorial grove,” is also being recommended as a space to honor the town’s public servants, volunteers and elected officials who have passed away.

Schwarz said the master plan primarily aims to address what have been recurring issues at The Park and neighboring play area and municipal complex, such as a lack of seating, shaded areas, lighting and signs. It was created in the hopes of directing town officials — both current and future — on how to correct those needs. 

Planning Board Chairman Zach Bergeron said the plan “helps establish a protocol” with how to move forward. 

While there won’t be rope swings and slides in The Park, there will likely be a “focal intergenerational passive gathering space.” This area is described in the plan as “an environment of varied materials that encourages unstructured, free play,” and includes elements such as plants, rocks, pathways, a garden, a small-scale bridge and a climbing hill, among other features.

The master plan also recommends that officials consider the reorientation, reconstruction or removal of the bandstand at The Park. The size and height of the structure are listed as constraints, and its purpose has changed from what it was originally intended when it was installed in the 1930s.

While Marc Fournier, deputy director of municipal services and director of the Highway Department, said recently that he’d like to see an arboretum, or a collection of trees, created at The Park, one is not mentioned in the plan.

Schwarz said that she met with Fournier and he was primarily seeking to label the current trees in The Park rather than making any drastic changes. She said Fournier would work off the master plan to create a similar document for its trees.

“I think the master plan and arboretum will be complimentary,” Fournier said. “With the arboretum, we will look to add some (trees), but will also be identifying, labeling, mulching and pruning the ones that are there. Some trees that are there already and in poor health may also be replaced.”

The next step for the master plan will be a courtesy presentation to the Board of Selectmen. A date for that meeting has not yet been set.

Planning Board member Joan Duff said The Park master plan was “well drafted and a quality document.”

“We have lots and lots of public input and I feel comfortable with it,” she said. “I feel that we have incorporated everybody’s options and suggestions.”

To view the full master plan for The Park, visit http://andoverma.gov/planning/parkplan0515.pdf.

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