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RAD funds sought by Allegheny County for parks work

Tony LaRussa
| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 11:55 p.m.

Making sure Allegheny County's nine parks have basic amenities such as picnic tables, grills and trash cans will be a priority next year with money from the Allegheny Regional Asset District.

“Our priorities will focus on taking better care of what we have,” county parks Director Andrew Baechle said on Thursday during a meeting at which operators of some of the region's top public attractions made their pitch for RAD funding.

In addition to Baechle, representatives from the Carnegie Museums, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, the National Aviary and Renziehausen Park in McKeesport made requests to the board.

More than 100 groups are seeking a total of $102.7 million in funding for 2014 from the additional 1 percentage point in sales tax charged in Allegheny County.

Baechle asked for $19.41 million — 5 percent more than this year — to cover operating expenses, and $1.6 million for capital expenditures.

In addition to $200,000 for new trash cans, grills and tables for some of the 170 park shelters — many of which are being replaced with the $2.79 million in RAD funding remaining from previous years — Baechle asked for $800,000 for landscaping equipment; $400,000 to repair roofs on multiple park buildings; and $200,000 to renovate the old “police barn” in North Park.

“Shelters are something people use in the park every day,” he said. “They need a lot of TLC.”

Barbara Baker, the zoo's president and CEO, requested $3.575 million for operating expenses, which is 3 percent more than this year's grant.

She also asked for $872,000 to help fund capital projects including renovations to the ocean exhibit, purchasing portable crates to move animals during an emergency and buying a small plot of land to create a “grand entrance” to the Highland Park facility.

Baker also was queried by board vice chair Dusty Elias Kirk, who wanted to know what changes have been made at the zoo since the Nov. 4 incident in which a 2-year-old boy was mauled to death after falling into an exhibit containing African Painted dogs.

“We no longer have the dogs and we removed the deck area — really to let the community and zoo staff heal — and we've added cheetahs to that area,” she said. “I feel like we've done everything we can do from a safety standpoint.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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