Discover more from The Fitler Focus
Schuylkill River Park’s 10-Year Master Plan: Slow But Steady Progress at the Two-Year Mark
By C.M. Crockford
In October 2021, the Friends of Schuylkill River Park unveiled their 10-year master plan for the beloved Fitler Square neighborhood park. Now, two years in, the scorecard shows slow but steady progress.
Thanks for reading The Fitler Focus! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support local journalism.
To create the master plan, Friends of Schuylkill River Park, a non-profit, partnered with Hinge Design. The firm surveyed the public about their aspirations and their frustrations. They performed 68 on-site interviews, collected 424 surveys, and engaged with the community in other ways, according to the master plan document.
They landed on a list of 7 near-term goals and 4 longer-term goals.
The near-term goals, defined as projects that could be completed in 2-10 years, include:
Making the community garden feel less exclusive and more accessible to the public
Consolidating the basketball and multi-court spaces
Developing additional youth play areas
Enhancing areas for social gatherings with “flexible seating…and other group gathering amenities”
Enhancing the dog park
Upgrading the current recreation center
Improving physical signage and maintaining a better online presence
The long-term goals, defined as projects that would take over 10 years to complete, include:
Achieving arboretum status for the park
Enhancing the primary park entry
Optimizing the athletic fields and tennis court layout
Introducing new water play features
Improvements are steadily getting checked off. The basketball court’s backboards and rims were fixed through local fundraising, and the Friends have brought more moveable furniture and picnic tables into the space. Markward Playground has been resurfaced, and the park achieved Level I arboretum status in 2022, though the inventory and tagging of every tree still needs to be finished.
Larger efforts have yet to take flight. The plan to unify the basketball courts with the adjacent multi-court, and to tie them together with a ground mural, has not been realized. Neither has the proposed installation of bleacher seating for spectators.
Proposed improvements to the popular dog park have also yet to commence. These include more viewing areas for dog park spectators, better drainage, and easier access to trash cans for dog waste.
The Saga of the Recreation Center
But perhaps the largest as-yet-unrealized improvement is the redevelopment of the recreation center.
The plan cites how the recreation center on Pine and Taney obstructs views of the park’s entrance, is built with materials that make it impossible to glimpse inside, and feels cut off from the rest of the area.
One initial idea was to develop a new recreation center on 26th and Pine instead.
Lindsey Bingaman, the President of FSRP, took her seat after the master plan was released, but was there for several 2020 Zoom meetings going over the details.
In a phone call, she explained that the proposal to build a rec center at the new location was contentious, to say the least. Bingaman was shocked at the hostility from local residents, in part over a larger building on the block which could obstruct their view.
The FSRP President said that when they took a fresh look at the plans for a new building on Pine, as well as the idea of a different location on Spruce Street, the group decided to make improvements to the current recreation center instead.
Redeveloping the rec center at its current site presents its own challenges. A significant concern is its susceptibility to flooding, as indicated in the master plan. Schuylkill River Park has two designated Special Flood Hazard Areas: one with a yearly 1% flood risk and the other with a 0.2% risk. The rec center is situated within the higher-risk zone. The master plan acknowledges that the rec center “endured significant flooding in the summer of 2021 during Hurricane Ida.”
No major works regarding the rec center have started yet. In an FAQ posted on their website, the Friends concede that changes to the rec center are “all aspirational and years away. If it did happen,” they continue, “it would go through heavy community engagement with PP&R, neighbors, consultants, and anyone else with vested interests.”
There are eight years to go on the master plan’s timeline. The full plan is accessible at the Friends of Schuylkill River Park’s website.