Mt. Airy residents got the opportunity over the weekend to learn about the next step in the multi-phase renovation of Lovett Park. Mt. Airy USA, a community development corporation, intends to transform the under-utilized public grounds into a destination green space.

Groundbreaking for Phase One of the project is expected to occur "sometime in 2013," said MAUSA's Executive Director Anuj Gupta at an event held Saturday afternoon in the Lovett Memorial Library's meeting room.

The park runs alongside the branch on Germantown Avenue.

Representatives from Lager Raabe Skafte & Bush Landscape Architects (LRSLA) were on hand to talk with residents about how Community Design Collaborative's conceptual design will move forward.

"My office feels a really personal connection to the park," shared Julie Bush, principal for LRSLA.

LRSLA was part of the team which worked on MAUSA's Place Making and Streetscaping Master Plan.

Bringing a concept to life

CDC's conceptual designs for the project were not based on an actual site survey, meaning some parts of the plan will need to be modified now that the survey has been completed.
Bush said her firm will adapt the concept to the park's physical constraints in order to generate working drawings.

Residents are being asked for their input on the project's design elements. A survey with questions concerning each proposed redeveloped space in the park was distributed and folks had ample opportunity to openly voice their opinions.

Elements of the conceptual design include, among other things, a courtyard entrance to the library (known as "The Porch"), an outdoor reading garden, and an amphitheater for outdoor performances.

LRSLA wants to hear suggestions for materials, color palette and other design considerations.

"There are endless opportunities for the engagement of local artists," said Justin DiPietro, LRSLA's senior landscape architect.

Resident reaction

Some older residents in attendance spoke up right away about design considerations which, they said, could affect their use of the space, such as the height for benches. Seniors often have trouble sitting and rising from low or deep seating.

All were pleased to hear that most of the historic Wissahickon schist wall which borders the property along Germantown Avenue and Sedgwick Street will be retained. Only a portion in front of the "Porch" area, situated in the front northwest corner of the grounds, will be replaced by bollards, short vertical posts.

DiPietro said the bollards will bring a more welcoming feeling and still maintain the Porch's safety.

The stone that's removed will be used for other parts of the project, such as paving.

Project changes

The conceptual plan had originally included a depressed amphitheater for outdoor performances, but that idea had to be altered.

The site survey indicated that the depression would cause drainage problems, DiPietro explained.

LRSLA is now proposing a "Performance Garden", which will feature a slightly raised platform stage with schist walls. The walls would provide a backstage area and help both to define the performance space as well as enhance sound quality. The potential for a light canopy over the stage is also being explored.

Residents were pleased with the idea, but would like to see more space for dance performances.

"There are a lot of dancers in Mt. Airy and it would be wonderful to see them perform outdoors," said near neighbor Johannes Ponsen.

Two new ideas also being proposed are a kiosk-style refreshment stand and a designated butterfly habitat on the grounds.

The project currently does not have any plan for toilets, but residents strongly suggested that any refreshment kiosk would necessitate restroom facilities.

"That's not a question you can bypass," said Maurice Sampson, who added that restrooms would be useful for any large event held at the park.

Bush said if such a kiosk structure was included in the project, a study would be done to determine its size and the Philadelphia Water Department would be consulted to learn how and if toilets could work be worked into the plan.

The Plaza

DiPietro said LRSLA is looking to use natural stone pavers, such as blue flag stone, for the project's Plaza section. Multiple sets of portable table and chairs will be a feature.

Concerns about protection from theft were addressed by Gupta. MAUSA experimented with the concept this summer by introducing limited portable seating on the grounds this summer. "Not a single one went missing," he said.

Gardens and Play

In the Reading Garden section, an existing perennial garden will be preserved, as well as a Carolina Silverbell tree.

Additional tree plantings will involve native species and more perennials will be added to the garden. A slightly depressed storm water management rain garden, together with a small foot bridge, is being proposed for the southwest corner of the grounds.

The rain garden can serve as another educational element in the project's Nature Play section, said DiPietro.
One resident formally proposed that an area for adult fitness activities with exercise equipment be added to the plan's design near the Nature Play area.

MAUSA has brought the idea to the attention of Eight District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass. Gupta said the city is currently determining the possibility of coupling the Lovett Park project with improvement to the exterior of the Mt. Airy Playground's recreational facility. Doing so will "connect better to the streetscape and make this one transformative project along Germantown Avenue," he stated.

The adult fitness proposal may be part of the improved recreational grounds instead of the park.

What about improving the library?

One angry local, who would only identify herself as being a member of the Friends of the Lovett Memorial Library, spoke out numerous times against any changes to the park.

"I would rather see the library open seven days a week. I don't care what happens in that park," she bitterly exclaimed.

Gupta said MAUSA also wants to see expanded library hours. Many in attendance agreed that the park's redevelopment could help that occur. The library's mission needs to adapt to the needs of the community as it stands today, "especially for the Library itself." Sampson concluded.

Still, some concerns were raised about funding for the project and whether it will take away from the library.
Elizabeth Moselle, MAUSA's director of commercial corridor revitalization & the Business Association of Mt. Airy, said the project is not receiving Free Library operational funds. However, it is as yet undetermined whether the project will receive any Free Library capital funds.

This news did not sit well with David T. Moore, local historian and former president of the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library.

"If I'm hearing that capital dollars are going to go into something that isn't intrinsic to the mission of the Free Library of Philadelphia and its mission through the Lovett Memorial in Mt. Airy, then I'm hearing something that's disturbing me." he said.

The last time the library was renovated was in 1999. It is open only on weekdays.

"This place isn't big enough to serve the people," Moore said.

What's next?

LRSLA's working drawings will be part of a construction package from which cost estimates and project implantation, including bids to build, can be developed. These documents are expected to be completed this spring.

The firm will also begin conversations with PWD on how best to capture storm water on the planned impervious surfaces.

While the first phase is anticipated to break ground on the Plaza next year, costs will determine what and when the next phase will be. "There's really no telling how long it will take," Bush noted.

A second community meeting will take place sometime next year.