Treehouse questions answered

June 23, 2010 by Parks Conservancy Staff

Over the last three weeks the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has received a number of emails, phone calls, and blog posts regarding the proposed thirteen outdoor learning spaces in Frick Park and the proposed space in honor of Kate & Peter Ambrusko. The comments have been both very supportive of the proposed project and in opposition to the proposed project. In addition, many of the comments have included questions.

Below is our response to the questions that we received. Please note that in order to respect the privacy of all the communications that we received, we are not publishing the emails verbatim. Specific posts can be found in the comments section of our blog.

Project Status
Based on the feedback that we have heard from the community, the Parks Conservancy will not proceed with designing the first outdoor learning space at the originally proposed location in Regent Square at this time. Instead, we will work with the City to review additional potential sites in Frick Park as part of the Master Plan update, which will include opportunities for public feedback. We will be sure to include in our evaluation alternative sites that were suggested by community members. We will also evaluate in greater detail some of the strengths and challenges of proceeding at the originally proposed location.

Outdoor Learning Spaces Design
Although no designs for any of the outdoor learning spaces exist, they are envisioned to be subtle landscape improvements that enhance the ecological value of the park and provide learning opportunities for all park users. The proposed outdoor learning spaces, regardless of location, will not involve major construction or add significantly to the built environment of the park.

To that end, the Parks Conservancy plans to work with a landscape architect and artist on this project and not an architect or engineer as we might for something more structural, such as a building. Concerns about safety, potential arson, accessibility, and long-term maintenance are all issues that the Parks Conservancy regularly evaluates during design, construction, and maintenance of projects in Pittsburgh’s parks.

As with all projects, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy will work with the City to ensure that all improvements respect the historic design, current use, and ecological needs of Frick Park. The outdoor learning spaces will also be held to the same high standard that the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy used in the 10 capital projects we have completed in the City parks since 1996. All of these projects underwent the City’s required approval process, which included ample opportunity for community members to provide comment.

The Parks Conservancy issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for only this first proposed outdoor learning space—instead of all 13—because we do not have funding in place to pursue design and construction of all 13 spaces. This is the only one of the 13 spaces that has any funding in place. (See timeline for more details.)

Project Funding
There are many important projects that need to be done in Frick Park and the Parks Conservancy would very much like to help address them all. However, we are only able to undertake projects for which funding is available.

The funds we received from the Kate & Peter Ambrusko Memorial Trust Fund, and the additional funds that have been raised and designated by other donors for “Kate & Peter’s Treehouse,” are restricted to this project only. This means that the funds must be used for the donor-designated purpose only. Therefore, we cannot take the Ambrusko funds and use them for any other park projects, no matter how necessary and important those projects may be. The location off of Henrietta Street in Regent Square was proposed because of a request from the Ambrusko Memorial Trust Fund.

The initial funds transferred from the Kate & Peter Ambrusko Memorial Trust Fund to the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy totaled $87,880. These funds came from 646 individuals and groups. The single largest individual gift was $6,000 and came from a member of the Ambrusko family. The largest group gift was just over $13,000, which was generated from a fundraising event held in Buffalo, NY by the children’s father.

The Parent Community Organization (PCO) of the Environmental Charter School also held an event to raise funds for the project; a hike in Frick Park led to a donation totaling just over $6,000, which represents less than 10% of the funds raised by the Trust. The Parks Conservancy has raised an additional $6,465 from 47 donors for this project as of 4/30/10 (the most recent date of Board reviewed financial statements). At no time did the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy or the Kate & Peter Ambrusko Memorial Trust Fund receive funds from Imagine Schools.

Project Timeline
Below is a timeline of the project, which is provided to address questions about the project’s origins:

  • The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh completed the Regional Parks Master Plan in 2001, before the Frick Environmental Center was destroyed by a fire in 2002.
  • In 2008, after completing a significant number of capital projects and seeing the need to revisit overall park priorities, the Parks Conservancy began to plan internally for an update to the Parks Master Plan.
  • In January 2009, the Parks Conservancy engaged the two firms that drafted the original Parks Master Plan in discussions about strategies and needs for a Parks Master Plan update. Part of these discussions included identifying proposed locations for the outdoor learning spaces in Frick Park. This work was done by Susan Rademacher, Parks Curator with the Parks Conservancy, Fred Bonci, principal of LaQuatra Bonci, and Patricia O’Donnell, principal of Heritage Landscapes.
  • The locations were identified in an effort to help support the work of the Environmental Center to engage children and families in environmental education.
  • The locations were selected to be representative of different park environments in places that would have the least ecological impact.
  • We are currently in the process of drafting a new plan—the Regional Parks Master Plan Update—and the update will address the proposed learning sites. We’ll have an online and a phone feedback tool for people to offer comment and help shape the plan, and representatives from LaQuatra Bonci will be leading our July Walks in the Woods and discussing potential plans for each park. Those who are interested in talking more with the planning team about the learning sites can attend the Frick Park walk on July 21, 2010.
  • In April 2009, Kate & Peter Ambrusko were tragically killed in a car accident. Kate Ambrusko was a 1st grade student at the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park; her brother, Peter, was in pre-K at a different school. The children’s mother expressed a desire to build a playground in their honor at or near the Environmental Charter School. People touched by the tragic event began to donate money and the Kate & Peter Ambrusko Memorial Trust Fund was created to receive these funds, which were housed at First Commonwealth Bank in Regent Square.
  • In June 2009 representatives from the Kate & Peter Ambrusko Memorial Trust Fund approached the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy about assisting with the management of this project. After several discussions that extended into the fall of 2009, all parties agreed that the project represented a generous gift to the City, that it must be designed and implemented in a way that would be beneficial to the entire park community, that it should not be a traditional playground, and that it could be the first of the proposed outdoor learning spaces.
  • In September 2009 Marijke Hecht joined the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy as the Director of Education.
  • In February 2010 the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy entered into a formal agreement with the Kate & Peter Ambrusko Memorial Trust to manage the project. The trust transferred $87,880 to the Parks Conservancy.
  • In April 2010 the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the first of the thirteen outdoor learning spaces. The RFP asked for teams of landscape architects and artists to submit fee proposals and an outline of their proposed process for developing a design; the RFP did not ask for preliminary design concepts. No design work has been completed to date.
  • In April 2010 Marijke Hecht resigned from the Board of Trustees at the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park.
  • In May 2010 the Parks Conservancy postponed the selection of a design team because of concerns that were raised by several community members about the proposed location. The Parks Conservancy will work with the City to identify potential alternative locations for the outdoor learning space and determine next steps for the project.

Frick Park