Patricia T. Russell Park

The former Carpenter Street fields in Keene were renamed Patricia T. Russell Park in 2018, in honor of the former Keene mayor, who also served on the City Council and in the N.H. House of Representatives.

Patricia T. Russell Park in Keene hasn’t been seriously updated in years, with the only current attractions being an open field and a swing-set built in the 1980s.

But the city’s Parks and Recreation Department hopes to transform it within a few years, adding a playground, athletic field and connection to the neighboring Cheshire Rail Trail.

To help realize this vision, the Keene City Council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee recommended Thursday night that the city apply for grant funding.

The Keene Parks and Recreation Department worked with the Conway School for Landscape Design in 2015 to develop a renovation plan for what was then Carpenter Field. It was renamed Patricia T. Russell Park, after Keene’s former mayor, in 2018.

The city purchased the 5-acre parcel from the Keene School District in 2013, and it has not received significant improvements, according to the project’s website.

“There are so many different components to this,” said Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Andy Bohannon. “It’s a project that really only comes once in a lifetime.”

Bohannon said construction should begin in the fiscal year that starts in July 2021, when the project is slated to receive $1.28 million through a bond.

An additional $125,000 was included in the 2019-2020 budget for design, which Bohannon said will be complete in December.

To secure more funding, Bohannon said at the committee meeting Thursday that he wants to apply for a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant, run through the National Parks Service.

The maximum amount that can be awarded is $400,000, Bohannon said, and the application — due Oct. 30 — requires an authorization letter from City Manager Elizabeth Dragon.

If the City Council votes to go ahead with the grant application, and it is approved, the money would be used to expand the scope of the original plan, Bohannon said.

He explained that when the project cost was estimated in 2015, it came in on the low end for about $1.5 million and on the high end at about $2.2 million, depending on which amenities were included.

“It could have been lights for the field, it could’ve been a concession stand or pavilion,” he explained. “A lot of different park amenities add up really fast.”

He said the parks department and city officials settled on the $1.5 million option, with the hope that grant opportunities would arise to further expand the project.

The extra $400,000 would go toward a variety of other amenities that haven’t yet been decided, Bohannon said.

However, he said, part of the money would ideally go toward building a playground that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. If built, it would be the only one in Keene.

“Having a destination playground unlike anything here in the city is going to be so important,” Bohannon said.

Other design elements for the park on Carpenter Street include multiple seating options, a walking trail, a pavilion, a vegetated buffer along Beaver Brook, a connection to the Cheshire Rail Trail, an athletic field and a parking area.

And as the parks department finalizes its design plans, it is seeking public input for ideas. A survey on the park can be found on the department’s website, ci.keene.nh.us/parks-recreation.

Bohannon said the project also includes replacing a stormwater drain that flows into Beaver Brook. The new drain will help clean the water out, he explained.

Ultimately, Bohannon said, the project will “transform” the city’s east side.

“You are fixing a stormwater issue, revitalizing a park and creating community access to get them out and moving and experiencing that green space,” Bohannon said. “It’s fantastic.”

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.