South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

Arlington eyes updates for The Fort including spray park


October 14, 2008

Michele Balcer walks with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Councilman Bruce A. Kraus on a tour of The Fort playground area. Arlington Civic Council is working with city officials to update the playground by adding a water-spray park and dec-hockey court.

The view of the city from the park on Fort Hill and the adjacent ball field is breathtaking. However, the city-owned facility in the Arlington neighborhood is in need of a facelift, both short-term and long-term.

Citiparks Director Duane Ashley is willing to beautify the park, but he wants feedback from the Arlington residents before he proceeds with short-term plans to install a dec-hockey rink and water-spray park. Mr. Ashley believes both of these items would be welcome additions to the park, which has sometimes become a haven for loitering juveniles.

Since the park's swimming pool permanently closed in 2003, the park area has become an eyesore. Hanging out at the park by  youths has created more litter, debris, broken glass, empty beer bottles and cans and occasionally hypodermic needles or condoms strewn on the ground. Graffiti has also become evident on two dilapidated recreation buildings, one of them that was used as a changing area when the pool was a thriving recreation spot 30 to 40 years ago. The residents would like to see those two structures demolished and Mr. Ashley agrees.

The Arlington Civic Council board, which met with Mr. Ashley and two other city officials at the organization's monthly meeting at the Kaufmann Center on October 6, is in agreement with Mr. Ashley that something positive needs to be done with "the Fort" as it is known by long-time Arlington residents.

 "The Fort offers a lot of opportunities for creativity," Mr. Ashley said.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl visited Arlington on October 1 to do a "walk-through" of the playground with District 3 Councilman Bruce Kraus and several Arlington residents. They identified the Fort Hill Park as one of the areas in the neighborhood in immediate need of attention.

Mr. Ashley said the Mayor notified him on October 3 that "the Fort" was to become a high-priority area for the Parks Department.

The Mayor is trying to give city neighborhoods that no longer have swimming pools spray parks, also known as "splash zones," under a plan which would provide wet and cool recreation in the summer that would be far less expensive than maintaining a pool that needs lifeguard staff.

At the beginning of the year, City Council provided Mr. Ashley with a budget of about $250,000 to begin installing these watery play grounds throughout the city that would have fountains, spray arches, play-sculptures and water-cannons. The first one was installed in Troy Hill this past summer. Beechview is scheduled to have one installed as well.

Mr. Ashley invited Arlington Civic Council members to visit the spray park in Troy Hill. The members expressed interest in taking the director up on his offer.

"Spray parks are for cities that just can't afford to maintain the traditional swimming pool," Mr. Ashley said. "Kids will love them. It's a nice way to cool off and this attracts other types of family-oriented activities."

The city maintains less than 20 public swimming pools, down from 31 before the 2003 budget cutbacks. The pool on Warrington Avenue that borders Mount Washington and Beltzhoover has also been closed for the last five years.

After that initial investment, the spray parks, with mostly stainless steel features, are inexpensive to maintain and are more difficult to vandalize, according to Mr. Ashley.

"Nothing is totally vandalism-proof," he said. The features are push-button activated and on timers, so water runs only when there are users. The spray park does not even have to be supervised by a city parks employee, according to Mr. Ashley.

They can also operate as early as the late spring and into early fall, giving it a longer use than the traditional pool season. They cater to children ages 2 to 16, and would be open to the public, with no pool pass required.

Mr. Ashley also talked about putting a dec-hockey rink in the park. There have been unorganized street hockey games played there by children, teens and young adults at the park for years. Even the basketball court has been used for street hockey at times. In fact, a group of teens and young adults use the park to play street hockey every Sunday morning, according to the residents.

They said many of the participants travel from outside of the neighborhood. The residents look at this activity as a plus for their neighborhood and not a detriment despite the added traffic and noise.

Mr. Ashley said these are just a few of the changes expected to happen at "The Fort." The hillside that surrounds the park may also receive a facelift that will be easy to maintain after the installation of special mulch and stones.

The hillside is heavily invested with shrubs and weeds that can attract litter and is difficult to cut. The plan that the Parks Department has for the hillside would require far-less maintenance.


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