Columbus Square plans $3-million renovation

Passyunk Square’s centerpiece could see massive improvements over the next two years.

By Bill Chenevert
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Feb. 6, 2014

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The 13th Street side of the park will see much-improved seating options.

Photo by Rendering provided by Community Design Collaborative

Columbus Square Park, which sits between 12th and 13th Streets and Wharton and Reed, may be unrecognizable in two years. Plans were unveiled for the proposed $3-million project at the Jan. 30 meeting held at the site. Plenty of residents were on hand to share accolades and concerns for the schematics’ details.

Project highlights include the implementation of a natural turf playing field, the demolition of the currently unused stone roundhouse and the elimination of adult use of ball fields in conjunction with the fields’ arranged such that they cannot be used at the same time.

The work of the Parks and Recreation Department, as represented by Mark A. Focht, and the Friends of Columbus Square Advisory Council, spoken for by Ilene Wilder, the organization’s president, began in the spring of 2013. Their work with the Community Design Collaborative (CDC) yielded detailed drawings that were influenced by a number of meetings, in addition to e-mails and letters from park neighbors with a wide array of wishes.

The playing fields at the park are currently in pretty rough shape as a result of overuse and a lack of irrigation. Some requested better playground equipment, others an improved dog park, and many simply wanted more multi-use green space.

“People feel passionately about the site and that is a good thing,” Focht, the first deputy commissioner at Parks & Rec. and the president of the American Society of Landscape Architects, said.

Wilder, who also has served as the Advisory Council’s vice president, as well as a Passyunk Square Civic Association board member, came to Philadelphia from Chicago 10 years ago, and chose her home because of its proximity to the park.

“I love this neighborhood and wanted to get involved to help make this a great community,” she said.

The CDC started meeting with members of the community through a task force that 1st District Councilman Mark Squilla encouraged Wilder to put together.

“We had a task force with roughly 23 people on it. We invited people who lived around the park, both long-term residents as well as relative newcomers; people who represented teams that played on the field, parents, people from the dog park and interested parties such as the developer of Wharton Lofts, PARC [Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corp.] and PSCA [Passyunk Square Civic Association] representatives,” she said.

The construction costs are estimated to cap out at around $3 million, which is high when compared to the Schuylkill River Dog Park ($800,000).

“The construction cost estimate is a bit on the high side for a site of this size,” Focht noted. “However, the cost is fully justified considering the extent of athletic field restoration required and the quality of materials and support systems (irrigation) we want to install.”

Perhaps of most interest to meeting participants was the demolition of the roundhouse and the shrinking of the playing fields.

“We had representatives from the permitted teams. They were well aware of what was going on,” Wilder said. “As for the roundhouse, that was a decision made by the Parks and Rec. Dept. based strictly on the economics of the situation. The cost to bring that building to usable condition could not be justified.”

Wilder, the PSCA and the site’s advisory council have already started the process of seeking private and public monies to fund the project.

“This park will allow the neighborhood to continue growing and being one of the best places to live in Philadelphia,” Wilder said. We have such an engaged, informed and energetic community and I will do everything I can to see this project become a reality.” 

Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at or ext. 117.

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Comments 1 - 2 of 2
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1. VSM said... on Feb 13, 2014 at 01:47PM

“I do not think the stone roundhouse should be demolished. The structure is original to the park and built by Italian immigrants. The building is extremly unique with the roof symbolizing Columbus's hat. I have seen much less quality structures deemed historic and re-vitalized.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jun 17, 2014 at 02:46PM

“The design plan for this is an atrocity. They are taking away one of the baseball diamonds that the children use for Taney baseball league to make a larger dog park and garden. I am all for improvement but come on, we have to put kids first. Has everyone in this city lost their mind? Should be easy to figure out way to keep both baseball diamonds and improve the quality of the rest of the park. There is a currently a lot of wasted space.”


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