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Student's design revealed for Piano Place, a park in Wilkinsburg

About Bill Vidonic

By Bill Vidonic

Published: Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, 7:36 p.m.

Ronald Butler didn't want to dream small or simple.

So when he asked a counselor at a 2011 summer camp what would be the most difficult design to create for a park, the counselor suggested a piano.

“I didn't want to always go for the easiest task,” said the eighth-grader at the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts. “I just wanted to see how far I could go. I just like to push myself the extra limit and test myself.”

Saturday, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and community leaders presented the results of Butler's hard work — Piano Place, a small Wilkinsburg lot transformed into a community park.

A stone pathway snakes through the park, resembling black and white keys of a piano keyboard. The park also features drums and a sign where children can plunk keys to produce musical notes. The park sits next to a community garden tended by Hamnett Place neighborhood residents.

The park honors the memory of longtime foundation member Harry Goldby, a former French language professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who died in September 2011 at 94. Foundation Executive Director Louise Sturgess said Goldby, an avid pianist, saw Butler's park design before he died and loved it.

Some funding for construction of the park came from Russell Coe, another foundation member and an old friend of Goldby's. Both men were raised in and resided in the Pittsburgh area, and both lived in the same Carlisle nursing home.

Coe, 97, wasn't able to make it to Saturday's event. His friends, Dick and Shirley Chamberlain of Carlisle, brought several gifts that Coe wanted Butler to have, including Goldby's blanket with a piano motif, along with a book about the Declaration of Independence and African art bookends.

“I know we will be seeing great things from Ronald,” Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane said at the park dedication.

Goldby's cousin, Dale R. McCausland, 63, of Pittsburgh and Manhattan said that Goldby would be thrilled to see Butler's creativity.

Butler designed the park and volunteers built it according to his drawings.

Butler said that he got the piano idea while attending the school district's Summer Dreamers Academy in the summer of 2011. The foundation sponsored an event during the academy called, Camp Design, Explore and Create.

Butler, 13, of East Liberty said he first tried to interest Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who wrote back that he liked the park idea. However, the foundation found land in neighboring Wilkinsburg, next to the community garden along Jeanette Street.

“It was a really long process,” said Butler, the son of Robert Butler and Marcia Butler. “I got bored, but I had to keep it in perspective. I had to realize it was going to be something amazing when it was done.”

Members of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation said the organization, with the help of funding partners, has spent about $12.5 million in the Hamnett Place neighborhood of Wilkinsburg, including the restoration of the Crescent Apartment and Wilson House apartment buildings, developing a Housing Resource Center and development of other vacant lots.

Two foundations headed by Dick Scaife, publisher of the Tribune-Review, donated $1.1 million in total to Hamnett Place restorations.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or




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