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Allegheny Commons project advances

| Saturday, Feb. 25, 2006, 12:00 p.m.
Cherry trees blossom alongside Lake Elizabeth in Allegheny Commons in the North Side of Pittsburgh, Tuesday, April 28, 2015.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
Cherry trees blossom alongside Lake Elizabeth in Allegheny Commons in the North Side of Pittsburgh, Tuesday, April 28, 2015.

New benches, more trees and installation of a drinking fountain are planned for Allegheny Commons this year as part of a master plan to spruce up the city's oldest public park.

The Allegheny Commons Steering Committee will discuss upcoming improvements and the progress made since the master plan was approved two years ago. The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, 4116 West North Avenue, Central North Side.

"This allows the park's steering committee to connect and go back to the community with a presentation of what we've been doing, and give them an opportunity to evaluate what we've been doing and a chance to weigh in with their opinions and thoughts," said Christina Schmidlapp of the Northside Leadership Conference, the umbrella neighborhood organization on the North Side which has helped coordinate the steering committee and implement the master plan.

The plan calls for restoring historical fixtures inside the park, improving accessibility and signs and enhancing its ecological diversity by planting new trees. Sick, ancient elms that once lined the northern fringes of the commons came down last year.

Committee members have big goals, but decided to start small with a pilot project in the East Common, the portion of the park bounded by Cedar Avenue and East Ohio Street.

There, a walkway has been widened and repaved with fresh asphalt and lined on the sides with crushed limestone. Newly installed street lights illuminate the path for walkers.

The park has 800 trees. About 80 have been replaced with disease-resistant varieties, such as red oaks and silver maples. This pilot project so far has cost nearly $225,000, mostly in city grants.

The meeting "is to show there is progress being made in light of what was said in the making of the master plan," said Lynn Glorieux, a committee member from East Allegheny.

The 20 committee members represent neighborhoods that border the 80-acre park, such as Central North Side, Mexican War Streets, West Allegheny and Manchester. The committee is also seeking approval from the National Park Service to list the Commons in the National Register of Historic Places.

Once public grazing land when the North Side was the City of Allegheny, the park was designed in 1867. When Pittsburgh annexed Allegheny in 1907, the commons became West Park. It is home to the National Aviary, Lake Elizabeth, three memorials and more than 80 species of trees.

"It has an important role -- aesthetically, socially and psychologically. It gives you the feeling that you are not cramped in," said John Canning, a board member of Allegheny City Society, a historical society. "My hope is that it can once again be a beautiful, useful spot."

Since 2004, $975,000 has been raised from public and private sources to finance the renovation. The committee is seeking $100,000 more for long-term maintenance.

Glorieux said every morning she strolls from her Lockhart Street home to pick up trash in the East Common, as though it had become her extended backyard.

"Doing this pilot project has made me feel that it's my responsibility to keep it up," said Glorieux. "I don't want to pour money into something and not take care of it."

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