A State College park that hasn't gotten much attention over the past few decades could soon be seeing some improvements to make it a more inviting space for people of all ages.
Borough Council this week reviewed a master plan for East Fairmount Avenue Park and authorized an application for an $82,500 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to help fund the work.
The borough hired architect Dan Jones in 2018 to work with staff, Centre Region Parks and Recreation and Highlands neighborhood residents to develop a plan for the park that accommodates activities, enhances natural features, beautifies the space, improves accessibility and preserves features residents currently enjoy.
Several meetings were held over the fall and winter to create the plan with community input.
In the plan presented to council, the formal center of the park would be the large lawn with flexible uses, which would be bordered by a slightly curved path. The park would have play zone with playground equipment, a picnic zone with a small pavilion and a walking zone. To the sides would be natural areas with a diversity of trees and shrubs.
"It would be a combination of formal and informal elements," Jones said. "This is a classic park with a lawn, trees, pathways and benches and you can come in there and sit and really enjoy it. And it’s for everyone, not just for kids on a playground, not just for people playing ball. It works for everybody in some way."
A sketch of plans for improvements to East Fairmount Avenue Park was presented to State College Borough Council on March 18. Image by Dan Jones via State College Borough
Jones said that the 1.3-acre park was created in the 1970s, but that there was never any formal plan for it.
"Facilities were just put there incrementally, and kind of randomly," he said. "We think this is a real opportunity for the borough."
The park, located at the far eastern end of East Fairmount Avenue between Prospect and Foster Avenue, is in a good location that's easily accessible for pedestrians, Jones said. Neighbors said they enjoy the park, but that there was a lot of room for improvement.
"No one came and said ‘I just love this park because it is so beautiful.’ They like it, but it isn’t beautiful," Jones said. "But it could be, and it should be. It could be much more of an asset to this neighborhood. It should be the iconic, defining identity of this neighborhood."
Most of the large trees on the property would be maintained. "Formal" trees would surround the center of the park and a mix of flowering trees and shrubs are planned for the natural areas.
Three sides of the park are screened by houses and the State College Friends Meeting. Instead of a fence on the fourth side along the alley, plantings, street trees and shrubs would be used to "have visual connection to the park but also have some separation," Jones said.
A handicap parking space is planned for the Fairmount Avenue side, with direct ADA access to the park.
The estimated cost for the improvements is $165,000. In addition to the DCNR grant, the borough expects to fund the project with $60,500 in Community Development Block Grant money, $11,777 from the borough's general fund and $10,223 in in-kind labor by borough and Centre Region Parks and Rec staff.
"The price actually looks like a bargain," councilman Jesse Barlow said.
Highlands resident Eric White said he appreciated how much community input was considered in developing the plans. He has lived in the neighborhood since 1976 and said that while the park has been functional and maintained, it has long seemed like it could use more attention.
"I think it’s time now to give the park a little bit more attention than it had," White said. "I think the community does find it of very much value."