Classroom trailers draw flak in Frick Park

Critics circulate petition to preserve park landscape


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A decision by the city and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to install temporary classroom trailers in a picturesque bowl of land in Frick Park has elicited a petition of more than 200 park users, some of whom this week urged a hearing before City Council.

Two trailers will be placed in a flat part of the bowl beyond the Blue Slide playground off Beechwood Boulevard for 24 to 30 months while the new Environmental Center is being built, said Kate Freed, the conservancy's vice president of development.

The trailers will be softened by landscaping, she said, and "the entire space will be returned to its original status" when they are removed.

A seven-minute walk away, the former Environmental Center burned down in 2002, after which the city installed trailers on that site, near another Beechwood entrance. The trailers must be moved when construction begins. It will be sometime this fall, Ms. Freed said, adding that no date has been set.

The conservancy has raised half of the $15 million it needs to build the new center, she said.

Alex Schramm lives across from the park entrance. He started the petition by stopping people in the park. He said many learned about the trailers when a temporary access road from the path into the grass of the bowl appeared three weeks ago.

"There should have been a public buy-in when the conservancy began discussing what they needed to do," Mr. Schramm said, adding that even if a meeting was not required by ordinance, it should have been held as a courtesy.

Ms. Freed said Mr. Schramm contacted the conservancy but has not responded to its offers to meet since. She said the conservancy has not received a copy of the petition.

The Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition and city Councilman Corey O'Connor received complaints before the petition was presented to City Council and they are planning "for an open dialogue with the parks department, public works and the conservancy," Mr. O'Connor said.

More than 600 people have been part of the planning of the environmental center design, but no public meetings were held about the trailers, Ms. Freed said, "because they are temporary and so much of the decision was driven by the city" and the conservancy's considerations of proximity.

"We have been keeping people updated on the website [www.pittsburghparks.org]," she said.

There were no zoning issues that called for a public meeting.

"A number of sites were reviewed and this one seemed most appropriate," she said.

"It needed to be accessible," on a flat site near the environmental center.

"The construction will be part of the educational process."

Environmental education at Frick Park accommodates 850 students from kindergarten to 12th grade, 200 more than last year, she said.

The trailers also need to be near the habitat the students study, in a location that's safe for loading and off-loading buses and on land that's easy to restore -- in this case, open, grassy landscape, she said.

"Once the trailers are placed," Ms. Freed said, "the temporary road will be narrowed so it is a pedestrian route to the classrooms. We will do as much as we can to beautify the area" around the trailers.

The bowl is a favorite of early morning walkers, families on weekends and people and dogs walking to and from the nearby off-leash play area. The grassy bowl is also used for picnics.

"We don't understand why they had to locate the trailers in this beautiful part of the park," said Susan Mayer, a Frick Park user since childhood. "You come in and see that huge beautiful open panoramic view.

"I understand it is temporary and I realize it has to be somewhere, but I can't tell you how many people I see daily who are sickened" just by the access road, she said. "It could be far worse, obviously."

"For all of the potential sites, there was a temporary negative visual impact," Ms. Freed said. "But the other extreme was to go two years without environmental programming."

education - neigh_east

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk. First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM


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