On Solid Ground

By Andrew Schwartz
Photos Courtesy Of Environmental Planning and Design, LLC

Approximately 20 miles south of Pittsburgh , North Strabane Township is home to one of southwestern Pennsylvania ’s fastest-growing communities. But the township’s rapid population growth and pace of development were putting intense demands on existing recreation facilities. Over the course of 3 years, residents and community leaders worked to expand and enhance the recreation system with the development of a 70-acre park. The township’s updated Municipal Park , the keystone of the system, serves all ages and provides access to all abilities. The four-season facility also serves as a central community gathering space while providing active areas for lacrosse, football, soccer, Little League baseball, and fast- and slow-pitch softball, as well as passive spaces for relaxation, walking trails, play spaces, picnicking, fairs, festivals, and socializing.


For years, residents used the original Municipal Park to rent pavilions, gather at its playgrounds, take short walks around the park’s peak, and participate in a limited number of sports and athletic practice events. However, because of the park’s topography, the township was discouraged from expanding recreation facilities at the site. Also, the township discovered that an undeveloped area initially slated for recreation space could not be developed due to the location of a utility corridor. The design team then turned its attention to the existing Municipal Park and began the process of transforming the former clay mine into a series of active recreation spaces.

During the removal of a significant hillside, the construction crew found that clay soils required more stabilization than initially thought. Working closely with the landscape architecture team that designed the park, the township determined that fully redesigning that portion of the park would be more cost-effective than stabilizing the clay soils. In other areas without clay, subsurface rock was so hard that utilities had to be trenched together underground rather than in separate trenches—another decision made in consultation with the design team that prevented costly delays.

From the outset, the township wanted to host tournaments as well as accommodate local field and practice events. This desire ultimately influenced the choice to use synthetic rather than natural fields. The choice of a synthetic field has allowed for longer playing seasons and more frequent use. Month after month, the game schedules outpace what would have been possible with natural fields.

Centralized Amenities
To accommodate both tournaments and community use, more than 400 parking spaces were required. Rather than distribute them throughout the site, all parking was centralized to minimize the visual effects as well as access roads. The parking area utilizes best-management practices for stormwater infiltration zones using constructed bioswales and innovative trench design. The park’s concession/café area has also become a place to see and be seen in the neighborhood, especially because of its placement near the baseball fields and the playground spaces.

Pavilion Space
Pavilions in the park were specifically decentralized and dispersed, but most are close enough to share facilities like bathrooms, while remaining far enough apart that separate events do not spill into adjoining spaces. It is no problem to have a corporate event with more than 200 people at one pavilion and a small birthday party at another pavilion. Evidence of the siting strategy’s success is in the numbers: the pavilions are almost fully booked, providing income to support the township’s overall parks and recreation activities.

Partners For Implementation
Partnering with public, private, and non-profit organizations throughout the design and implementation process has strengthened the park’s planning as well as the reality of its implementation. The township’s leaders agreed to allocate $2 million in funding for the park’s Phase 1 construction: geo-technical investigation, survey verification, site preparation, bulk grading, and stormwater-management implementation. To build on the township’s Phase 1 funding commitment, grant monies were sought to supplement a portion of Phase 2 improvements, which included construction of two regulation-size athletic fields, a pavilion, trails, playground equipment, and vegetative plantings. By the 2012 opening, the cost of the improvements came to $8 million.

Essential Elements
Improvements at Municipal Park were the result of the township’s proactive planning efforts; its design is a model of success that can be achieved when a community commits to include resident and regional stakeholder cooperation. The municipality worked closely with the design and planning team from early conceptualization through construction. Challenges were met with careful consideration to maximize opportunities and keep costs under control.

Andrew Schwartz , RLA, AICP, LEED AP, is a landscape architect, planner, and the managing principal at Environmental Planning and Design, LLC in Pittsburgh, Penn. Reach him at epd@epd-pgh.com .