Organizers of a 15-month grass-roots effort to plan a public outdoor performance structure hope to present details to the Bedford Select Board at a meeting next month, and ultimately see the project adopted by the town.
The working group for a permanent outdoor protected space (POPS) envisions a privately-funded facility located between the brick wing of Town Center and the outfield of E Field, and ready for use in the spring of 2026.
Planners believe the work can be accomplished without spending town money, except for a grant from the Community Preservation Fund. They estimate construction cost at $200,000 to $300,000.
According to promotional materials the group has prepared, POPS is envisioned as “an outdoor entertainment and gathering venue for Bedford,” and “a place to hold concerts and events, awards ceremonies, crafts, plays, story times.”
The campaign was sparked by responses to annual Cultural Council surveys, which began in 2015. Longtime Cultural Council Chair Barbara Purchia, the main driver behind the effort, formed what became the working group in March 2022.
Purchia said the concept is for a 20-by-40-foot structure, open on all sides with a roof.
According to the group’s materials, the proposed site is ideal because it is “in the heart of where other activities already gather people.” Considering turnout and consistent usage, “it makes the most sense to hold these activities where Bedford residents are already used to going.”
The space is “where summer concerts have taken place for years,” and is a “focal point” for the Bedford Cultural District. “Anywhere else in town will have issues of neighborhood proximity, parking constraints, conservation restrictions, and other challenges,” the working group explains.
The working group acknowledged that “the biggest challenge is location.” Among other sites rejected were at Springs Brook Park, Page Field, and the John Glenn Middle School fields complex. Reasons ranged from proximity to wetlands, residences, and flight paths to distance from parking and electricity sources, to preservation of trees.
Organizers say the structure won’t compromise the integrity of E Field, as it is “more than 50 feet beyond the standard 200-foot outfield for baseball and softball.” And just to make sure, “we are suggesting a temporary outfield fence, with padding around posts,” and scheduling coordination with the Recreation Department.
If the idea becomes a town project, it will be eligible for a technical assistance grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. This funding could clear the way to survey the location, design the structure and its surroundings, and begin private fundraising over late winter and spring in 2024. Money would be raised by volunteers seeking private donations, corporate sponsorships, and cultural institution grants.
Members of the working group inspected band shells and other structures in 16 cities and towns, and compared sizes, uses, costs, and management practices. Purchia said the facility in Plymouth comes closest to the Bedford vision.
The panel also met with town departments on logistics and usage. and began seeking support from organizations and businesses
“This space would be available to residents, town departments, employers, or anyone to book,” the committee literature says, listing events ranging from library story time and poetry slams to Scout activities, concerts, plays, and weddings.
“We are confident that the space will be well-used,” after conversations with administrators of the library, Kids Club, and recreation. “In conversations with other towns, one message that was very clear was that it needs to be located in an accessible, active area where other activities already take place.”
Purchia emphasized, “This project aligns with the town’s new cultural district designation and other efforts to meet the growing demand for a vibrant cultural community. Our goal is to engage the community and bring us closer together with Bedford POPS as a focal point, enriching Bedford in so many ways.”
Other members of the working group include Erin Sandler-Rathe, Susan Schwartz, Ralph Hammond, Steve Henning, Cliff Rober, Roberta Valday, Deb Edinger, Adam Schwartz, Paula Gilarde, Paul Purchia, Angel Pettitt, Christine Pinney, Chris Wojnar, Derek Blackburn, and Elaine Grace.
They worked in subcommittees focusing on vision, fundraising options, location/size, material/structure/functionality, partnerships/outreach, and site investigation.