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New Buhl Community Park offers shade, gardens and water

| Thursday, June 21, 2012, 6:01 p.m.
Tribune-Review
Andy Drilak, an employee with Harris Masonry, stands in the mist of the fountain at the new Buhl Community Park at the Children's Museum on the North Side on Wednesday afternoon, June 20, 2012. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
The new fountain at Buhl Community Park at the Children's Museum on the North Side on Wednesday afternoon, June 20, 2012. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
Andy Drilak, an employee with Harris Masonry, stands in the mist of the fountain at the new Buhl Community Park at the Children's Museum on the North Side on Wednesday afternoon, June 20, 2012. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

The weather forecast for the new Buhl Community Park at Allegheny Square Park: partly cloudy.

The coolest thing about the revitalized city park might not be that a blighted acre of concrete at Allegheny Center on the North Side has been replaced by a green meadow, shade trees and gardens.

During Saturday's public opening, the “oohs” and “ahs” likely will be directed at a billowing water sculpture named “Cloud Arbor.”

Its creator, artist Ned Kahn, devised a high-pressure sprinkler by fixing 64 stainless-steel poles in the ground. A towering cloud of mist is created when water is forced through high-pressure nozzles in 24 of the 32-foot-high poles.

For some, the most remarkable thing about the park is that the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh raised the $6.5 million to renovate a piece of property they don't own.

The museum will offer free admission Saturday.

“It is a city asset, and it's in the front of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh,” says Chris Siefert, museum deputy director and park project manager. “It was in a state of disrepair for many years. We all know that the city struggled with their finances.

“It's a little bit of our responsibility in our neighborhood. Institutions, private companies, corporate foundations, we all have a responsibility to where we live and work.”

The museum also created an endowment of about $400,000 to help pay for the upkeep of Cloud Arbor and other maintenance not routinely provided by the city. “This is a gift to the city of Pittsburgh, but we give the gift responsibly,” Siefert says. “As a museum, we will help to conserve that art over time.”

Funds for park renovations came from private donors, corporations and foundations, including $3 million from the Heinz Foundation and $1 million from the Buhl Foundation.

“I was very impressed by what the Children's Museum has done,” Pittsburgh City Council President Darlene Harris says. “I'm very thankful to the Buhl Foundation, and to anyone that has sponsored even a dollar towards this park.”

Harris represents District 1, which includes the North Side. She introduced legislation to rename the park. Keeping “Allegheny” in the name was important, she says, noting that the area was at one time the central business district of Allegheny City, which was founded in the late 1700s and forcibly annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907.

A marker in the center of the park commemorates the location as the historic center of the old Allegheny City Diamond Park, which became known as Ober Park. The renovated park features 100 native trees, including oaks, red maples and river birch. North Side residents, office workers, commuters and visitors to the Children's Museum can relax at chairs and tables. The central plaza can accommodate 160 people for concerts and other events.

Designed by Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture of San Francisco, the sustainable park features bioswales, which redirect rain water back into the gardens instead of funneling it into sewers. Clover planted among the grass produces nitrogen that helps to fertilize the soil.

“It was really about creating a space that was going to be usable,” Cochran says. “What was there, with all the concrete and no trees, was a place that was freezing cold in the winter and broiling hot in the summer.

“We tried to accommodate a variety of scale of activity so you could have a concert in the park. It's big enough that it could accommodate a tent for an event, but, yet, you would fell comfortable going out there to eat your lunch,” Cochran says. “If some school children were going to the museum, maybe they could sit on the grass and have a picnic.”

Omar Hashmi of Philadelphia says he's looking forward to having a green space in which to relax when he gets home from school. The third-year medical student attends Temple University School of Medicine at West Penn Allegheny Health System, whose classrooms are on the North Side.

“The best thing about Pittsburgh so far is that there's so much green space,” Hashmi says. “I love when they replace cement with grass.”

The park is named in honor of Henry J. Buhl, who co-founded Boggs & Buhl Department store near what now is Allegheny Center. His fortune has paid for numerous civic, educational and cultural projects through the Buhl Foundation.

“Mr. Buhl lived and worked on the North Side of Pittsburgh,” Buhl Foundation president Frederick Thieman says. “I'm sure if he was alive today, he would be incredibly honored and proud to see this transformation on the North Side.”

William Loeffler is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wloeffler@tribweb.com or 412-320-7986.

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