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Parks Conservancy Seeks Ballot Initiative To Address Multi-Million Dollar Maintenance Backlog

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
A swingset at Baxter Park in Homewood, considered one of the parks that needs the most rehabilitation.

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy released a multi-year plan Monday to spend more than $50 million on maintaining, rehabilitating and operating Pittsburgh's 165 parks. However, the plan is contingent on the November passage of a ballot initiative to create a Parks Trust Fund.

The Conservancy surveyed 3,400 Pittsburghers about their feelings on the city's parks and what changes they'd like to see. Nearly all respondents -- 95 percent -- said the parks need more funding and that at least half of Pittsburgh's parks are in fair or poor condition.

Jayne Miller, president and CEO of the Parks Conservancy, said these results confirmed what those in the organization already believed.

"We know from the data that the city and the Conservancy has painstakingly gone through, this system has a minimum of a $400 million capital backlog," Miller said. "And we're short in our staffing needs across the parks system by over 70 percent."

The plan suggests spending $22 million over six years on maintenance, $11.6 million on rehabilitation, $10.2 million on capital projects, $2.5 million on programming and $11.6 million on administration and master planning.

The Conservancy ranked Pittsburgh's parks to identify which ones need the most critical attention, based on factors including the surrounding neighborhood's concentration of poverty, the population of youth and seniors and resident health. While most parks will receive some attention, Baxter Park in Homewood, McKinley Park in Beltzhoover and Spring Hill Park on the North Side will take priority, with projects completed by 2022.

Miller said the Parks Conservancy will also take stock of assets in the park to figure out where improvements need to be made first.

"So [many] of the assets in the parks system are way beyond their life cycle. We've got some assets that if we don't do critical repairs, a roof may collapse and we'd have to close a whole building," she said.

The plan is dependent on the passage of a referendum that would amend the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter to create a Parks Trust Fund. Funding would come from a 0.5 mill levy, or $50 on each $100,000 of real estate value, as well as foundation support. The Conservancy is in the process of gathering enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

"If the referendum doesn't pass, we are in the boat we've been in for decades," Miller said.

Mike Gable, the city of Pittsburgh's Public Works director, said he feels confident the referendum will pass if it's on the ballot.

"This has happened in other major cities across the United States, we're hoping that's going to be the same case here," he said. 

The Parks Conservancy will hold 12 public meetings through July and August to get community feedback on the plan.

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.