Work on final upgrades could begin as soon as the spring at White Township’s Kennedy King Park, and among the improvements are eco-friendly innovations and an athletic court that will be the first of its kind in the region.
The township was recently awarded an $85,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The funding covers half the cost of the $170,000 project, which is the second and last phase of renovations that started at the Josephine Avenue park in 2008. That work, too, was supported by the DCNR.
“Prior to phase I, Kennedy King was essentially in disarray,” said Recreation Manager Ryan Shaffer. “It was a very broken down park.”
Since that time, the park’s tennis courts were made into basketball courts, a playground for young children was built and amenities, such as garbage cans, benches and sidewalks, were added.
The grant stipulates that the projected be completed with matching funds, meaning the township must put $85,000 of its own — in both money and labor — toward the project. When applying for the grant last April, officials indicated that the matching support would include $20,000 and $65,000 worth of in-kind services.
Help with the matching dollars can come from the community itself, according to township manager Milt Lady. While the township has budgeted funds for the project, community fund-raising and sponsorships from local business — which could include naming rights for certain amenities — are possible avenues for generating the needed funds.
Phase II work will include relocating and refurbishing the park’s baseball field, building a picnic pavilion, adding more parking and transforming remaining tennis courts into pickleball courts.
The courts will be the first in the area dedicated exclusively to pickleball, a relatively new paddle sport that is growing in popularity. A dedicated group of players meets at the YMCA several times a week to play indoors.
The only other outdoor venue for the sport in the area is a Blairsville tennis court which doubles as a pickleball court, according to Indiana Borough pickleball player Bill Reynolds.
He and another local player, Pothan Varughese, approached the township about adding the courts at Kennedy King.
While it is popular among seniors in the area, the sport is enjoyed by all ages, Reynolds said. Area players hope that having the courts will encourage a variety of people to get involved.
Four courts are slated for the park’s upper tier. Reynolds and company hope to have the chance to step up their game, particularly by hosting small tournaments.
“With four nets you could do that and you could invite people from surrounding areas to come and compete,” he said.
Along with the picnic pavilion in the park’s third tier, which Shaffer expects to be built this summer, the pickleball courts are a top priority. To create them, the old tennis courts will be resurfaced and repaved. Posts will be erected and, at the very least, temporary markers will be put down, he said.
The parking lot will also be added this summer, as will sidewalks, grills and benches. All aspects of the park are to be ADA-compliant.
Next year, work will begin on the baseball field. The township, according to Shaffer, may approach Indiana Area High School to see if the girls’ softball team would like to use it.
While Shaffer estimates that paving won’t happen until late July or early August, he said other work may begin as soon as mid-April.
“My crew,” he said, “will probably start doing some excavation work around the time the weather breaks.”
A bit of work related to phase II already started several years ago. And it was the beginning of an effort to make the park a bit greener, in an environmental sense.
In 2011, the township planted the banks between the park’s tiers with ground cover. Doing so, Shaffer said, prevents the need for cutting down vegetation with a weed eater and therefore, keeps the township from using additional fossil fuels.
Other sustainable additions include an effort to, again, use fewer petroleum products, by putting in as little blacktop as possible. When it rains, according to Shaffer, oils from blacktop are released and can seep into groundwater.
Instead of blacktop, those at the township will use concrete lattice pavers, which will be set on a stone base, filled with topsoil then seeded. The walkways will circumnavigate the baseball fields and possibly some of the parking spaces.
“So we’ll have a hard surface you can drive over, you can park on, you can drive a wheelchair over,” he said.
The earth-friendly adaptations may have helped the township to secure the grant dollars. White Township sent in applications for phase II in 2009 and 2010, which went unfunded. After taking two years off, last year, they applied again.
“We kind of adjusted the way we made our application and the way we were going to continue to develop with the attention on creating less of a carbon footprint,” he said.
“We made a lot of changes to this application. We cleaned up some areas, made it a little bit more attractive to the DCNR,” he said.
The project is likely attractive to others, as well.
According to the phase II grant application, the 1962 Regional Master Plan for Indiana Borough and White Township identified the need for Kennedy King Park. A need for community facilities is articulated in White Township’s 2008 comprehensive plan.
In addition, the park was identified as one of several facilities in need of rehab by the Indiana County Commissioners’ Recreation, Park and Open Space Plan.
From the get-go, the renovations had community support, too. Those at the nearby Chevy Chase Community Center got the ball rolling. According to Lady, they approached White Township about starting improvements and facilitated surveys to find out what people would like to see added.
With completion of the project on the horizon, Lady anticipates that the results will be well-received.
“We’re looking forward to finishing up the park and updating the equipment up there,” he said. “We feel that what we’ve put into it so far has been well-utilized and people are enjoying the facility.”