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South Park Fairgrounds to receive $1M makeover

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Linda Woshner of Bethel Park runs up the bleacher steps at the South Park Fairgrounds on Saturday, April 19, 2014.

Contractors are set to begin work next month to renovate the South Park Fairgrounds, starting with the oval track and its deteriorating bleachers.

They will get the go-ahead to start work in mid-May on a $1 million effort to remove the crumbling concrete bleachers that overlook the oval; resurface the track; upgrade the fencing and backstops for the baseball, softball and general-purpose fields on the “infield” of the track; rotate one of those fields so batters aren't facing the sun; and plant grass and shrubbery to make the area greener and easier to maintain.

“It's finally going from a fairground to a real recreational use,” said Ron Schipani, acting executive director of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation, which worked with the county and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to get the money for the project. “It's going to be a lot more functional and a lot more beautiful.”

Despite its name, the oval hasn't hosted a county fair in more than 30 years, and the biggest competitions there tend to be rib cook-offs.

Schipani said there is no longer a need for the large banks of bleachers on the hillside leading down from the parking lots and Brownsville Road.

“The big bleachers up along the slope were OK back in the '30s and '40s when they had big events like the fair,” he said.

They will be replaced with smaller bleachers near each of the playing fields, with a better view of the individual sports.

The bleacher stairways, which are popular with walkers and runners, will be replaced with wider stairs descending from the parking lot.

The track will be resurfaced from cinders to a firmer, more stable crushed stone mix, similar to what's found on local bike trails, Schipani said.

Trees, shrubs and meadow grass will replace the grassy slope and county logos made of recycled plastic materials on the other long side of the oval. Other plantings will cover deteriorating retaining walls that could be repaired as part of another project.

Andrew Baechle, director of Allegheny County Parks, said all the activities and sports normally scheduled for the oval have been suspended through the winter, though work is expected to be completed by late fall.

The work is part of a larger plan to restore the park to a more natural state, including unfunded projects to restore Catfish Run, the stream that runs in a culvert alongside the oval.

Some of the older, more dilapidated buildings that were part of the fairgrounds will be demolished, and parking areas will be replaced and supplemented with rainwater-absorbing pavements.

Dave Buchewicz, chairman of the Friends of South Park, said he is pleased to see the oval improvements moving forward after years of work to develop a master plan for the park.

“It's great for the park, something we've been looking forward to for the last couple of years,” he said. “That piece there, it's a focal point … it will probably entice more people to use it and rent the buildings down there.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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