South Park work planned

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Deteriorating concrete bleachers around Allegheny County's South Park "oval" will be torn down as $1 million in improvements get under way later this year.

Pashek Associates, the county's design consultant, is developing a "hybrid" plan for initial renovations at the county's second-largest recreation area, parks director Andrew Baechle said this week. The amended plan will reflect public comments gathered at a Jan. 30 meeting, he said.

The county is working with the nonprofit Allegheny County Parks Foundation on the multi-year undertaking. The impetus behind the work is to improve South Park's amenities to reflect how visitors use them, officials said. The planned changes also are designed to make the park more environmentally friendly and easier to maintain.

The county is working with the parks foundation on plans for similar changes at North Park, the county's largest facility.

The first stages of the South Park project will center around the former fairgrounds area, south of Corrigan Drive. South Park covers 2,013 acres in Bethel Park and South Park Township.

The "hybrid" plan Pashek Associates is working on will include elements from two proposals discussed at the January public meeting.

The first "formal and axial" plan would retain the basic shape of the half-mile oval but upgrade its surface for the runners and walkers who use it.

The second "informal and flowing" plan replaces the long, straight sides of the track with multiple curves. "Landscape architects don't like straight lines," Mr. Baechle joked. That plan would retain the half-mile loop and add a second loop, about 0.2-mile long, that would encircle one of the three ball fields within the oval.

Both plans call for reorienting one of the ballfields to reduce sunlight in players' eyes and for renovating all three sports areas. An existing football field would remain within the oval.

Existing steps would be replaced with new ones because step-climbing remains a popular form of exercise among park visitors.

Lower-maintenance native grasses, shrubs and trees would replace the concrete bleachers and the grass, which has to be regularly mowed.

Project costs for the first phase of work will be financed about half and half with state and county funds, Mr. Baechle said. Work is expected to be completed by summer 2014.

Improvements to the area around the oval reflect how South Park is being used. According to an online survey of visitors, the most common use for the park is for independent athletic activities, such as running, cycling or walking.

Projects at North and South parks follow the outlines of master plans developed for both facilities.

Plans for improving North Park include a $2.9 million widening of Ingomar Road to create a bike lane and pedestrian path. It would create a wider shoulder with room for a 6-foot to 8-foot-wide bike lane and a separate 8-foot to 10-foot pedestrian path between Babcock Boulevard and Kummer Road.

One part of that plan -- a footbridge across Pine Creek near Kummer Road -- had to be dropped because of opposition from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Mr. Baechle said. State officials were concerned that the new span could harm adjoining wetlands, he said. The bridge would have moved walkers and runners away from a portion of Ingomar Road.

Both parks are scheduled to get new restaurants that will operate year-round.

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Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159. Freelance writer Jill Cueni-Cohen contributed.


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