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As Project Moves Forward, Whitehall Road Regional Park Gets $100,000 Grant for Sports Field Lights

by on October 29, 2019 5:00 AM

A newly announced state grant will give a boost to one much-desired aspect of the long-planned Whitehall Road Regional Park.

Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority received $100,000 for LED sports field lighting for two synthetic turf fields to be developed in the park's first phase, state Sen. Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, announced last week.

“While it has been years in the making, this park is a shining example of what can be accomplished locally in partnership with the state,” Corman said in a press release. “Lighting these fields extends the sports seasons in the spring and fall, creating a safe and enjoyable environment for our kids to continue to learn teamwork and sportsmanship.” 

Pam Salokangas, CRPR director, said she and the authority are grateful for the effort Corman and Benninghoff put in to securing the grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority's Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program because there was uncertainty if the lighting project would receive any funding from the state.

"Sen. Corman and Rep. Benninghoff went to bat for this project," she said. "They see the value in the Whitehall Road Regional Park and they went to bat and found some funding for the project... We may have ended up with zero dollars and now we’re able to apply that $100,000 toward this project. It’s really going to help."

The total cost of the lighting is projected to be $750,000. The current overall budget for the 55-acre phase one of the park, to be located off Whitehall Road in Ferguson Township, is $4.8 million, based on available funding from a CRPR loan for Whitehall Road and Oak Hall Regional Park, which was completed in 2015. The lights and the synthetic turf upgrade for two of the planned four rectangular multi-purpose fields, however, are among the features not fully included in the budget and for which CRPR is fundraising and seeking grants.

More than a decade in planning, Whitehall Road Regional Park was delayed during litigation over the neighboring Toll Brothers' student housing development, now being called The Yards at Old State. As part of the sale of the land from Penn State, Toll Brothers was required to provide the necessary road and utility infrastructure for the adjacent planned park. The litigation ended in late 2017 and construction on the housing development began, after another delay for a sewer line and pump station easement, in the fall of 2018.

Salokangas expects site work to begin on the park in the first half of 2020, pending township approvals. Turf fields have long been in short supply for youth and club sports teams throughout the Centre Region, and lighted, artificial turf fields are particularly sought-after.

"It remains a crucial need to the park," Salokangas said. "Both of those are very important to have field space that can be used for a longer period during the year, starting earlier in the year and going later in the year, and it also holds up much better to our Central PA weather."

Community members found just how convenient a lighted, artificial turf field could be on Sunday night, Salokangas said, when the CRPR Halloween Costume Parade took place on the new State High North Field after a rainy weekend.

"The field was as dry as could be. That was a wonderful thing to be able to do," Salokangas said.

Benninghoff said the lights at Whitehall Road will enhance safety and the outdoor experience.

“Proper lighting goes a long way to protect the safety and security of our players,” Benninghoff said in a news release. “This grant builds on the community efforts and commitments to create and maintain a top-tier outdoor experience for our area residents.”

More than $200,000 in other grants and major donations also have been made toward the lighting project in the past year as well.

In addition to the four fields, phase one of the park is expected to have two practice/open space areas, 2.5 miles of walking trails, an all-season pavilion with attached concession stands and restrooms, parking lots, storage building and an all-ability, universally-accessible playground.

The playground, with standard and adaptive equipment, is expected to cost $713,000 and $300,000 was earmarked for it in the project budget. Last year, CRPR was awarded a matching grant of $300,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Salokangas said CRPR has been fundraising and seeking grants for the remainder. Autism Opportunities Network and Autism Speaks each awarded $5,000 grants toward the playground.

"We have been applying for additional community-style grants to do other upgrades," she added. "We have a mix, for example, of paved and gravel parking at the park. If we were able to receive additional funding outside of that $4.8 million we would pave all of those parking lots. That makes it easier on maintenance and a nicer area for the customers."

Green stormwater management facilities are planned for the site, with bioswales, stormwater infiltration basins and rain gardens connecting to the stormwater sewer system.

Land development plans for the park were scheduled to be presented to the Ferguson Township Planning Commission on Monday night, and Salokangas said she expects at least one more PC review before the plans go to the Board of Supervisors for approval. 

The overall budget will be updated after the plan approval process is complete, which Salokangas said she hopes will be by early 2020. After construction documents go out and bids are awarded, site work will begin.

"We will continue to do fundraising and grant writing even well into next year. We’re only going to be at site development in the early stages of next year," she said. "We have some time to continue working with this community and with other foundations and grants across the state to find the funding even through 2020. We’ll be making some decisions about how to bid certain projects based on the funding and where they stand."

Last updated in 2013, the master plan for the 100-acre park includes four total phases. Future phase plans include features such as additional fields for diamond sports, a picnic grove, community gardens and a dog park. Phases three and four were to include a large field house with indoor synthetic turf and a a separate indoor tennis complex. 

But, Salokangas said, the master plan might be revisited after the completion of the Centre Region Comprehensive Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Plan next year. She noted that since the master plan was last updated, two large indoor athletic field facilities — Nittany Valley Sports Centre and C3 Sports — have both opened in the Centre Region.

"We’re hoping to do that after the comprehensive study is finished to evaluate whether that master plan should be updated," Salokangas said. "Are there other things we could be doing there if that field house is not needed because it’s been done in the private sector? Should that be a community center versus a field house? All those things we want to evaluate after the comprehensive study."



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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