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Children's Museum of Pittsburgh plans meadow-like park with fog sculpture

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By Bill Zlatos
Monday, Aug. 16, 2010

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh plans to undo years of failed urban redevelopment and neglect by converting a drab concrete pit into a verdant park highlighted by a globe of mist where children can play.

"We're trying to do a park that fits in today's lifestyle," said Jane Werner, executive director of the North Side museum. "We want it to be used and loved."

In a related but separate effort, the Northside Leadership Conference is hoping to reconnect Ohio and Federal streets beside the museum in Allegheny Center, an island surrounded by a "moat road."

Museum officials will announce next month the public phase of a campaign to raise $2 million for its project and seek final approval from the Pittsburgh Art Commission. Nearly $4 million raised so far includes grants from the state, museum board members, the Grable and Benedum foundations and The Heinz Endowments. A $500,000 maintenance fund will be established.

Andrea "Andie" Cochran is the landscape architect. Museum officials want to plant a meadow with native grasses and to collect storm runoff.

The Leadership Conference is working on engineering and design to reconnect the roads inside Allegheny Center. The idea is to make the connectors two-way lanes with parking on both sides. That project should take four years and cost about $4 million, said Mark Fatla, executive director of the conference.

Created in the 19th century when the North Side was not part of the city, the concrete area near the front of the museum was a field called Diamond Park, an X-shaped path with a fountain in the middle. In the 1920s or '30s, the paths and the fountain were eliminated, and the place was called Ober Park.

But in the 1960s and '70s, urban redevelopment brought concrete. The fountain long has been broken.

"Right now, it's a sunken pit," Fatla said. "Even if you repaired what's there, the issues of accessibility, security and lack of greenery would make it nonfunctional as a park."

The centerpiece of the new park will be a fog sculpture designed by Ned Kahn, 50, of Sebastopol, Calif. It will be a counterpart to Articulated Cloud, the award-winning wind artwork he designed for the Children's Museum in 2004.

The new sculpture will consist of thin stainless steel poles with fog nozzles, arranged in a 30-by-30-foot grid, Kahn said.

"When the fog is on, it will appear like a 20-foot-diameter sphere of fog spinning inside the poles," he said. The mist will be cooled during the summer and warmed in winter.

Werner hopes to break ground early next year. Children could play in the mist by 2012, the museum's 35th anniversary.

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