What's up with Westinghouse Pond?

August 25, 2010 by Melissa McMasters

Westinghouse Pond todayIt's been a while since we updated you on what's happening with Westinghouse Pond in Schenley Park, where the grass has taken over what was once a lovely fountain. I had a chat with our Director of Management and Maintenance, Phil Gruszka, this morning and asked him for an update.

The good news is that the Parks Conservancy is actively working with the City and the City's contracted landscape architecture firm to develop a complete restoration plan. After the quick fixes of the last couple of summers failed, we decided to take a careful look at what would be good for the site in the long term. Once the conceptual design is in place, we'll develop a construction budget and then seek funding for the project. Developing the plan has allowed us to look at historical documents that show the original design intent and how the use of the site has changed over the years, making it harder to maintain. One big example:

A Fountain or a Pond?
Directly behind the monument is a water body--the headwaters of the Phipps Run stream that runs through Schenley Park down to Panther Hollow Lake. Before there was a Westinghouse memorial, the pond was called the "lily pond" and it was fed by the Phipps Run stream. After the memorial was built, the pond continued to receive its water entirely from this natural source. But somewhere along the line, a fountain was installed in the pond and much of the stream water was actually diverted underneath the pond. Potable water was treated and brought in to fill the basin, which was now being treated as a fountain and no longer a pond.

Historic postcard

Looking at this site's larger implication to the park, treating it as a fountain instead of a pond is undesirable for two reasons: one, pumping the jet of water into the air required live wires to be run along the bottom of the pond, which isn't exactly optimal for safety. Two, the stream water is diverted underground instead of being given a place to pool, which ultimately increases stormwater runoff into an already overtaxed watershed. (We've written about the Panther Hollow Watershed several times recently, including here and here.)

So what's the proposed solution? We'd like to return to the days when the pond was filled by the stream water, turning the pond into an ecological benefit as well as a park amenity. This may mean that the fountain looks a little different--one possibility is that instead of one large jet, there will be tubes pumping compressed air into an array of different bubble patterns on the surface of the water (which will look attractive but also aerate the water, keeping the pond from becoming stagnant). That would also eliminate the need for electrical wires in the basin itself, making it a safer place to be.

Other Improvements
The landscape would also see improvements as part of a restoration project. One important change would be to make the monument ADA-compliant. When the granite walkways are replaced, the steps on one side of the fountain will be changed to grade so that wheelchairs are able to access the monument.

Lighting will also be redone and enhanced. We're hoping to add some discreet overhead lighting to the pond and the monument to illuminate it in the evenings. Benches and seating walls will be rethought, especially with an eye to protecting the site during the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix each year.

Westinghouse volunteers

We'll also be planting additional sweet bay magnolias on the side, because repairing the pond and the walkways will likely damage some of the trees that are embedded within the rocks in the walkways. Restoration of the woods near the pond is already in full swing thanks to a woodland management grant we received earlier this year. We started clearing invasives out in knee-deep snow this past winter, and this summer and fall we'll be in planting mode with our volunteers, including a University of Pittsburgh Day of Caring scheduled for September.

So When Will All This Happen?
According to Phil, the hope is that construction will begin in 2011. So while the pond may be an eyesore for one more winter, we're developing a careful plan that respects the site's history and solves some ecological and practical issues. We'll keep updating you as new info becomes available (including when you can help volunteer on the project!).

Schenley Park