Friends of Arsenal Park working on Pittsburgh renovations

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Friends of Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville formed last year after several regular visitors had finally had enough of the rust, rot, weeds and cracked pavement.

The group got almost 1,000 signatures in its initial call to action and $70,000 from former city Councilman Patrick Dowd to begin drafting a master plan.

The first session in the public process is at 6:30 this evening at Pittsburgh Arsenal 6-8, 2209 40th St.

The group came together in September 2012 during the 150th anniversary commemoration of the explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal. Volunteers collected 264 signatures in one day in a call to action at the park and set a first-step goal of basic maintenance in partnership with the city.

"There's been a ton of activity within the park in the past year," said Heather Sage, a nearby resident who takes her daughter to the park regularly. She is also director of community projects for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the master plan's manager.

Shakespeare plays, movies, yoga classes, a Zombie Fest and a bocce league all took place there. AmeriCorps crews, Deloitte employees, Pittsburgh Cares, Tree Pittsburgh and other groups have scraped, painted, gathered trash, planted flowers and maintained trees.

"Friends of Arsenal Park has really geared up," said Ms. Sage. "It's been an amazing transformation already."

Last year, the city budgeted for upgrades of the tennis courts and playground and repairs of the bleachers, playground and steps, all of which were completed this year.

"The city had budgeted money for parks, but I think that with the renewed focus on the park, because there was a voice, the park is maintained better and more people are using it," said Friends chairman Randall Sulkin.

Arsenal Park occupies nine acres between 39th and 40th streets. It has two baseball fields, a dek hockey court, tennis courts, a basketball court and a playground. It is a small piece of the former Allegheny Arsenal, whose vestigal stone wall surrounds the park.

"We had heard loud and clear from the neighborhood that the park was not well maintained and that its infrastructure was deteriorating," said Lauren Byrne, executive director of Lawrenceville United. "The city has stepped up in recent months and people are really pumped."

Lawrenceville United has been a liaison to the city for the friends group and is devoting staff time toward outreach for the planning process.

A master plan was crucial before any capital improvements are made, Ms. Byrne said, "because we want the community to tell us what they want." Lawrenceville United is trying to get more funding for the process, which is estimated to cost from $120,000 to $150,000. But there is enough to start, she said.

The parks conservancy is the fiscal sponsor of the $70,000 allocation Mr. Dowd secured in state community development block grants. It will manage the master plan production and help select professional teams and consultants to move it forward, Ms. Sage said.

A request for proposals within about six weeks will result in selection of a landscape architecture firm. Another will be for a consultant to analyze historic resources in the park.

Ms. Sage said residents and other stakeholders will set the priorities, but one already in place is to restore a pond and fountain. It would have to be reconfigured to recirculate water, "and that will be a major capital investment."

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at

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