Neglected Lawrenceville park finally has a few friends

Group works toward making 'underused' Arsenal site more inviting

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Lawrenceville's Arsenal Park needs lights, paint, repairs and, until last week, it needed some friends.

Dog walkers use it, and people cut through it, but the ball-field base paths stand in water long after a rain. Weeds grow through cracks in the tennis courts and bleachers, which themselves are rotting. Fences are rusty, paint is flaking and not so many kids use the playground.

"I started talking to other residents," said Randall Sulkin, who moved to the city a year and a half ago, into a house across 40th Street from the park's entrance. "I noticed how underused it was."

Friends of Arsenal Park sprang to life during a 150th anniversary commemoration of the deadly explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal on Sept. 16. The group collected 264 signatures in its first petition drive that day. Basic maintenance is the first order of business, he said.

Updating equipment and adding amenities, such as a restored reflecting pond and amphitheater, will require fundraising, he said, "but that's down a long road."

Friends of Arsenal Park will be at block watch meetings and circulate more petitions to begin a master plan for the park, which has two baseball fields, a deck hockey court, tennis courts, a basketball court and a playground for young children.

It occupies nine acres between 39th and 40th streets behind Arsenal School on Butler Street. It was the southern tip of the stone-walled Allegheny Arsenal, which stretched to the Allegheny River. The wall around the park is a vestige of the original. The public restrooms are in the arsenal's powder magazine, the only building remnant left from when the arsenal was active.

"The park is usable, but it's not inviting," Mr. Sulkin said. "We have young people moving here and people moving back with young children. These are people who would want better access to a place like this."

On a recent day when Mr. Sulkin met a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter in the park, litter lined the walkway to the powder magazine. Near the playground, a man pushing a Home Depot shopping cart sat on a bench and lit a cigarette.

Mr. Sulkin said some residents are concerned about people like that.

"I don't know of any problems, but there's a perception, and perception is what counts. We need to change that, but a lot of other things are wrong."

Joanna Doven, spokesman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said the group has met with city officials and that its commitment is welcome.

"We can't be everywhere all the time, so good two-way communication is important," she said. "Fundraising is wonderful, because there is not enough money to give everything the attention it deserves. We have 130 parks, and we have identified $4 million in our budget to deal with them," she said, adding that Arsenal Park is on the schedule for tennis court resurfacing next year.

The Friends of Arsenal Park's steering committee includes nearby residents Tony Ceoffe Jr. and Christine Brill.

Mr. Ceoffe is a lifelong resident who used the park as a kid and said he wants it to be as nice for his kids.

"Right now it's kind of in deplorable condition, and I think a strong group of volunteers have an opportunity to get some things done," he said. "The condition is why it is not being used much. The wheel that squeaks the most gets the most attention. You can see it already with the tennis courts."

Ms. Brill joined the effort as a parent of a young child and as an urban designer who has experience on green space design and planning.

"The historic elements are almost beyond repair," she said. "The wall is dissolving. The amphitheater stairs are cracked, and the playground surface is covered in moss. Now that I have a kid I'm there a lot more. We do check out other playgrounds around the city on weekends."

She said the location between the school and the county health department campus gives the park great potential to be used by both institutions. "Maybe we can stitch them all together to make better connections," she said. "It's not Schenley but it's an amazing park. And it needs some love."

Friends of Arsenal Park is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArsenalParkPGH and can be reached by email at info@arsenalpark.org.

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Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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