by Sue Ann Rybak
Changes are on the way for Lovett Memorial Library’s park, the grassy area adjacent to the library at 6945 Germantown Ave.
Mt. Airy USA, in collaboration with Community Design Collaborative, which places volunteer design professionals to work on projects for community development corporations (CDCs) and other non-profits, unveiled the preliminary conceptual design plans for Lovett Park on Friday evening, July 13, in the park.
The conceptual design includes reconfiguring the approach to the library, a nature play area for children, a plaza with tables and chairs and an amphitheater.
Elizabeth Moselle, director of commercial corridor revitalization for both Mt. Airy USA and the Mt. Airy Business Association, said the goal of the project is to “transform the park into a vibrant community asset” that will enhance the Avenue by connecting the commercial corridor with a pedestrian-friendly park.
“In 2011, Mt. Airy USA began working with the Community Design Collaborative to help develop a vision for what this site could become,” Moselle said. “After a series of community meetings that included members of the East and West Mt. Airy Neighbors civic groups, business owners, and area residents, the design team generated a conceptual design plan for the site.”
In an earlier interview, Moselle said the design “changes the approach” to the library. The plan calls for removing the wall near the bus stop and adding chess tables and chairs.
“The goal is to enliven that space,” Moselle said.
Moselle said the new design would encourage people walking on the Avenue to interact with people in the park.
“Right now, you could miss it, and it’s pretty big,” she said.
Moselle said the reading garden would encourage people to grab a book and read or just sit outside and enjoy their lunch. Alongside the library there will be a story ring where staff or volunteers can use the space for story time or other programs.
“One of the things that was really important to people was to keep it green, open and natural,” Moselle said.
Moselle said the natural play area is a combination of “culture and play.”
“It is not designed to be a playground because there is a playground right across the street,” she said. “It’s designed to be a place for imaginative play. One of the most exciting elements is the amphitheater. I think the design team did a really great job of integrating people’s ideas and making it work.”
In order to minimize disruptions caused by the amphitheater, Mt. Airy USA is placing the amphitheater in the back. Moselle said Mt. Airy USA plans to show movies there and eventually have concerts in the park.
“It opens us to a whole new realm of programming,” she said. “And that’s one of the things I think people are unanimously pretty psyched about.”
Moselle said Mt. Airy USA has raised all the money for the next phase, which is design and development, and will be hiring a team of landscape architects.
Moselle said the estimated cost of the project is $400,000, but the organization expects costs to be higher.
“So, far we have raised $30,000 in commitments,” she said.
Ashton Jones, a certified city planner with Community Design Collaborative, discussed the process and concepts behind the design plan.
Jones said part of his job was to walk the site and figure out “why is it like this?”
“It’s sort of in this dead zone,” Jones said. “In the planning world, we talk about something called the five-minute walk, which is sort of the realm that people will walk naturally – unless it’s a major destination like the train station.”
Jones said CDC’s goal was to find a way to bring people into the space and interact, pointing out that initially there were two designs – one very structured and other more open and having “free flowing pathways.” Residents discussed what they wanted, and eventually those concepts “became molded into one,” he said.
The predominant message was that the residents wanted the area to remain a natural and open green space. Jones said among the “gambit of suggestions” was bringing food trucks in the back and installing gazebos or rows of trees.
“People weren’t into the idea of permanent structures taking over,” he said, noting that the design tries to incorporate the community’s vision for the space.
“Unfortunately, there will always be people who are disappointed with any project” Jones said. “It’s hard you can’t appease everyone.”
He said the conceptual design allows Mt. Airy USA to have “a design in hand” so it can say, “Here’s our vision, here’s our plan – help us to raise the money for it.”
He added that the next phase would determine the type of materials, texture, style, lighting and placement of the items.
“The plans are still being tweaked,” he said.
And that is exactly what Irv Miller, treasurer for the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library, hopes will happen.
“I came here tonight to see if there were any changes in the plan,” Miller said. “We sent a couple of letters to the Free Library because we’re not happy with some of the things they want to do – getting rid of the roses and the flower garden.”
Miller said the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library have, unfortunately, not had a say in the plans “until we raised a fuss.” He said Mt. Airy USA and the designers “argue that the roses are a barrier to people walking on the sidewalk.”
Anuj Gupta, executive director of Mt. Airy USA, said his organization wants to revitalize Germantown Avenue by turning the public space into “an asset the community wants to use.” Gupta thanked the Free Library of Philadelphia for being “critical partners” in this venture.
“This space is a critical jointure between two segments of a corridor that has a lot of activity,” Gupta said.
He said Mt. Airy USA started last year working on ways “to get people into the park.”
“It started with the outdoor movie series Moonlight Movies in Mt. Airy, which turned out to be a tremendous success,” Gupta said. “Our goal was to come up with a master plan that turns this into a destination park.”
Beth Vaccaro, who came with her family to see the plans, said she liked the idea of a destination park.
“I think for a long time I thought you would get in trouble if you came over here,” Vaccaro said. “It’s kind of isolated. I think it’s great. I like all the natural play stuff. I really like the idea of being able to read while the kids are playing. There isn’t anything I object to.”
Vivian Schatz, a longtime Mt. Airy resident disagreed.
“It’s a lovely space,” Schatz said. “I don’t know why they think they have to change it. If they planted a couple more trees they would be all set. There is a playground right across the street. They don’t need this as a playground.”
Lynn Ruthrauff, branch manager of Lovett Memorial Library, said in many ways Lovett Memorial Library serves as a community center. She said residents “meet and interact” with one another at the library and that the project will only add to “the multitude of programs” available to patrons.
“Lovett serves a very diverse community, racially, economically and socially – but it works,” Ruthrauff said. “It’s very collaborative. People co-exist very peacefully. We serve a very intellectually curious community who want their children to succeed. They are greatly invested in enriching their children’s education.”
Marilyn Cohen, executive director of Mt. Airy Neighbors, praised what she called a “joint venture between the public library, the business community, and the neighborhood organizations.”
“West Mt. Airy Neighbors is thrilled to see this kind of collaborative work in the neighborhood,” Cohen said. “ Everybody I have talked to loves the idea that it’s going to be kept as a green space as opposed to becoming a ten-story building. And that it’s going to be something that reinforces two goals that are really important to us. One is the education of our children in making another fun way for kids to enjoy reading and further their education. Secondly, it addresses healthcare concerns by allowing kids to enjoy outdoor imaginative play.”
Enriching the lives of the community is exactly why Dan Gordon, Ken Weinstein and Elise Rivers are committed to the project. Rivers, who owns Community Acupuncture of Mt. Airy (CAMA) is offering a challenge grant to support the Lovett Park development.
Rivers said she chose to run a business in Mt. Airy because “it’s a place where you can really appreciate and enjoy community.” She said she was passionate about making the park a reality and that is why she is “going to match dollar-for-dollar any donations that come into the park for a total of $5,000.”
“Whatever you give will be doubled and help Mt. Airy USA make this wonderful program happen,” Rivers said. “This will continue to be a collaborative process with the Free Library, with the business community, with East and West Mt. Airy Neighbors, with the Friends of the Free Library and everyone else who wants to be involved.”
Anyone interested in making a donation as part of the challenge grant can go to www.CAMAcenter.com, or leave a check at Community Acupuncture, 6782 Germantown Ave. (payable to “Mt. Airy USA” and memo “CAMA Challenge”). All donations are tax deductible.