Whitehall leaders are working to improve the borough’s neighborhood parks system, with upgraded and new amenities.
A master parks plan is nearing the end stages — waiting for final approval from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources — that will provide a blueprint for projects at the borough’s parks going forward.
“We have a great parks system,” said Courtney Wertz, assistant borough manager. “Recreation has always been a priority of Whitehall council since its founding. … It’s an amenity that we want to offer the residents, so how do we improve on that amenity? The space is there, how do we bring this into the 21st century? What do our residents now want, need and would like to see, as opposed to what’s there?”
Borough leaders started looking at their parks in 2015, at the suggestion of Councilwoman Kathy DePuy. Whitehall’s park system is meant to have smaller, neighborhood parks that residents can easily walk to, as opposed to larger, destination sites, Wertz said. They mostly offer a baseball field, some playground equipment and a shelter house or restroom facilities.
The borough conducted a survey in its magazine to garner where public interest lay in making park improvements. People wanted to see everything from more soccer fields to spray parks, Wertz said of the variety of answers received.
Based on those recommendations, borough leaders moved forward first with upgrades to Frank Park.
Phase I, a $77,775 project awarded to A. Folino Construction, included the installation of a pavilion, electrical work and added parking spaces in an area that used to be a basketball court. They kept the hoop up for play when the parking lot isn’t full.
From the survey, borough leaders found that residents were looking for a place to host graduation and birthday parties, Wertz said. That’s where the pavilion and parking came in.
“That’s the idea behind Frank Park. It’s intended now to be a place that you can host a gathering of some sort,” she said. That opened this summer to rave reviews from residents, she added.
Borough council unanimously on Aug. 21 awarded Phase II of the project to Plavchak Construction that will include site preparation for the installation of a new playground and the installation of an asphalt pathway around the perimeter of the park.
The borough will purchase the playground equipment, and public works crews will install it. The asphalt pathway will be paid using money set aside from developers that were unable to install sidewalks on their properties as required by borough code.
Construction will take place this fall and likely be open for public use by the spring.
While construction proceeds at Frank Park, borough leaders have taken a step back to look at all of the municipality’s parks cohesively.
The borough received a grant from the DCNR to fund its master parks plan.
Last year, two public meetings were held to gather resident input. A survey was conducted online, where they received more than 250 responses.
Those were taken into consideration when planning for the parks’ futures. As the play structures in many of Whitehall’s parks are roughly 20 years old, a number of people wanted to see updated play structures in the parks, Wertz said.
The borough is working with Gateway Engineers on the master plan.
They had to spread out the ideas across the parks, based on what would be feasible budget-wise and logistically, Wertz said. Under the plan, parks also would become more inclusive with adaptive play equipment.
The master plan — which will be concepts of what would be done in each park — will help borough leaders focus on improving parks across the entire borough, she said. And, having the document in hand, will make it easier for the borough to seek grant funding for park projects.
Funding for the projects, though, will be key, Wertz said.
For the last few years, Whitehall leaders have budgeted around $100,000 a year for their parks.
The borough is currently waiting to learn if it will receive a grant for upgrades to be made at Prospect Park. If the borough receives the grant, the hope would be to move forward with the project in 2020, Wertz said.
If the borough doesn’t get the grant, it will likely use the $100,000 budgeted to upgrade “other low-hanging fruit” that needs to be done in the parks, Wertz said.
“Our parks get a lot of usage,” she said. “People just like to have a space that they can gather that’s not their backyard. So, we kind of just want to improve on what’s already there.”