Thursday, April 19, 2007

Whalom trees get new life

Thursday, April 12, 2007


FITCHBURG— When tenants begin moving into the new Falls at Arden Mills condominiums later this month, they will see a little piece of the old Whalom Amusement Park.

Dick Madonia, the project manager, hired a local company to transplant about three dozen Colorado spruce trees ranging in height from 16 feet to 35 feet from the former park 2-1/2 miles away to the property at the condominiums on Beamis Road. The four-story Flying Comet roller coaster, the carousel, ballroom and other facilities at Whalom Park were torn down last year to make way for Emerald Place, another 240-unit luxury town house development that Mr. Madonia is overseeing.

“It’s an exciting situation. We put our heads together to try to get a part of Whalom Park and try to save a lot of the bigger trees down there,” Mr. Madonia said recently, unable to conceal his enthusiasm. “This helped keep some part of Whalom Park alive.”

Mr. Madonia said if the trees were purchased at this size, they would have cost between $80,000 and $100,000. About 30 large rhododendrons, 6 to 7 feet high and 7 to 8 feet wide, were also brought from the old Whalom Park site.

Some town officials and local residents resisted the demolition of the amusement park, which was built in 1893. Each summer, thousands of people visited Whalom Park, which became known as the playground of central New England. The selectmen’s attempt to take the property by eminent domain failed at a 2005 town meeting. Several abutters also filed suit in Worcester Superior Court to try to block the development. Global Property Development Corp. of Bridgewater bought the 31.64-acre property from Whalom Amusement Co. for $4.5 million to develop Emerald Place condominiums on the site.

Mr. Madonia said the first of three phases of the Falls at Arden Mills along the Nashua River is complete, and tenants will begin moving in within the next two weeks. He said half of the first 48 units have been sold. The second phase of 78 units should begin in about three months and will take up to two years to complete. That set of units will be at the waterfall near Duck Mill Pond. Phase three, which will be 78 units along the Nashua River, will begin after the completion of the second phase.

The development will be a gated community with heated parking garages on the ground level. Three levels of town houses with 9-foot ceilings will be over the garage. The one- to two-bedroom units range from 1,000 square feet to 1,350 square feet. Prices start at $179,000 and go up to $304,100 for units overlooking the river. There is a walking path along the river, and by August, there will be a clubhouse with a swimming pool, a bathhouse and an exercise room, and a gazebo at Duck Mill Pond.

Mr. Madonia said energy-saving materials used in the construction will reduce the cost of heating and air conditioning for home owners by more than half. The 71-year-old Fitchburg native contacted Carl Pearson, vice president of Global Properties, to do the two local condo projects. Mr. Madonia and his family used to own a construction company that built several buildings in Fitchburg and Leominster. Among them are Fitchburg’s state police barracks, Wallace Civic Center, Wallace Towers, South Street and Reingold elementary schools, and the Carmelita Landry Ice Rink. His former company also built the police station, courthouse, and Southeast Elementary School in Leominster.

William E. Gleason, whose wife, Heather Heywood, owns Gleason Landscaping and Tree Transplanting, located around the corner from Whalom Park, said saving the large trees was a way to retain some of the fond memories of the park. Mr. Gleason grew up in Lowell, but his wife, a Townsend native, used to visit the amusement park.

“I guess a lot of people really loved Whalom Park. My wife used to go there all the time,” Mr. Gleason said. “The trees are beautiful, and I didn’t want to seem them go to waste. Plus, I know people would like to see some Whalom Park material being saved.”

The Gleasons said it took about a week to dig the trees out of the ground hydraulically, place each on the bed of a truck and transport them 2-1/2 miles to their new home. He said digging each tree out of the ground with a special machine only took about 10 minutes, compared to several days if done by hand. The biggest part of the job — which took about five hours for each tree — was climbing to the top and tying each branch upward like a packaged fresh Christmas tree. With the large, valuable cargo, he was only able to drive about 10 miles per hour. The trees were placed in holes at the entrance to the project on Beamis Road.

Mr. Madonia said Mr. Gleason will teach his workers how to care for the large transplanted trees and shrubbery. He said some of the bigger trees need up to 200 gallons of water a day.

“As soon as the weather breaks, he’s going to be training our staff. We’ve got our fingers crossed. We hope that they catch,” Mr. Madonia said. “The trees make the buildings look like they have been there a long time, but they’re brand new.”

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