The Northside might be getting a new recreation center.

Residents and community activists gathered inside the Pressley Ridge Administrative building in Brightwood to listen and comment on proposed plans for the six-acre recreation concept presented by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, State Representative Don Walko and City Councilwoman Darlene Harris. Some of the proposed features include indoor workout facilities, a soccer field and an outdoor walking track.

“It’s your community, it’s going to be your recreation center,” Ravenstahl said. “We truly want to make this a community-driven partnership.”

Ravenstahl has reserved $941,090 in the city’s $60 million capital budget to help get the process started, although the total price tag might be around $8 million. However, much of that money will be coming from other sources, including Pennsylvania development money tagged by state representative Don Walko. Councilwoman Darlene Harris was also there to hear comments and provide feedback on the recreation center.

The Brightwood meeting was one of three planned meetings to discuss possible features and qualities of the new recreation center to be located along the northern edge of Riverview Park on Mairdale Avenue. Another was in Observatory Hill and the third is scheduled for March 12 at Brighton-McClure Presbyterian Church on Brighton Road in Brighton Heights.
Walko spoke to the assembled group, and told them that despite tough economic times, the State’s capital budget was healthy and that he had set aside a $4 million authorization for the project.
“In tough economic times, people need these sorts of resources and these sorts of centers,” Walko said. He mentioned that these facilities would be free to the public, and that people would only be charged for special programs or activities.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris said that this recreation is part of an obligation to the communities of the Northside, and that such a center was long overdue.

“This is sort of a dream come true for soccer players, the elderly, families and all people of the district,” Harris said.

Duane Ashley, the director of Parks and Recreation for the city, spoke to the residents about specific issues, including the choice of site and the logistics involved in building, operating and maintain a recreation center of that size. He said that the location is relatively isolated, but within range of vehicles to maintain safety. He said the building would be built to be sustainable and green, and that such a center would “allow us to aggregate our community resources.”

The site, a former area for industrial fill, was originally thought to be unsuitable for construction, but a recent environmental study showed that the area was fine for development. The City will be placing a three foot cap of soil over the industrial fill, which is usual for such projects.

After an explanation of possible ideas, along with preliminary designs, residents offered their own ideas for the center. Much of it focused on programming for children and the elderly, such as day camps, exercise programs and organized sports.

Other ideas included a nature center to help coordinate activities in Riverview Park, as well as a nutritional information center. One resident suggested an advisory board of residents and community leaders would help the center be more responsible to the needs of the community.

Floyd McCrea, a resident on Mairdale Street and a Pittsburgh Public Schools Board Member came to voice his opposition to any kind of construction in that area of the park. He said he represented other residents on the street as well.

“I don’t want it period,” McCrea said. “This is not what we want on our street.” He said it would disturb existing wildlife and cause a lot of noise, as well as reducing the property value of his house.
What followed was a back-and-forth being McCrea and Ravenstahl and Harris. Ravenstahl and Harris said it would only raise property values, and that the existing wildlife population would not be left stranded, as they had the rest of the park. Harris pointed out her continued support of animal programs in the City.

McCrea joked that he had a four-bedroom house for sale, if anyone wanted to buy it.

Overall though, the residents in attendance seemed interested in the park and supportive of the idea of new facilities and programs for children and the elderly in the area.
The project is still in the planning stages, and the City is currently seeking input from people on ideas for programming, activities and facilities offered at the proposed recreation center.

To provide feedback, please email Kim Graziani at kim.graziani@city.pittsburgh.pa.us.