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Credit: Photo: Michele Ouimet

Heuser Park's new playground equipment has become a major attraction for children in Upper Merion Township. The playground was constructed by a specialty subcontractor to ensure safety.

Before Heuser Park was built, the Schuylkill River area of Upper Merion Township, Pa., was unsightly and unusable. Nonetheless, the township saw potential in the area and partnered with Schoor DePalma to design a park for the community.

In the late 1940s and early '50s, coal was mined in the area to heat homes. Waste coal or culm—a fine coal residue—was washed into the river. “The area was filled with a black, sludgy, dust material,” said Glenn Harris, who served as project manager for Schoor DePalma. The river eventually was dredged, and the coal sediment was piped into basins on the shore. Upper Merion Township purchased the 104-acre area from the state of Pennsylvania in 2001.

Dur to the sediment, the area had little vegetation and was used to store landscaping material and compost piles. Aside from a small baseball field, there were no areas available for recreation. As reclamation began, the township accepted money from a local charcoal briquette manufacturer that wanted to remove the coal culm. The land was then filled, compacted, and ready for construction.

The plans for Heuser Park involved transforming 32 acres of the area into three baseball diamonds, two football fields, a practice field, and a clubhouse for sports organizations. These new additions are a great asset to the Upper Merion Baseball Association, King of Prussia Football Association, and the Upper Merion Lacrosse group.

One of the main concerns with the new fields was lighting. Because Heuser Park is adjacent to houses, the township and Schoor DePalma chose lighting that minimizes spillover and glare to nearby properties. Since the park's opening, there have been no complaints—in fact, the lighting encourages night visits from residents.

The park has become a popular recreation spot, especially with the new biking and walking trails surrounding the perimeter. Sports teams have ample practice and playing space with excellent drainage and watering systems. The new playground equipment attracts local children.

The cooperation between Schoor DePalma and the township was a positive experience for all team members. David Broida, director of parks and recreation for Upper Merion Township, respected Schoor DePalma's ability to interact with project team members and the public. “Contractors needed to be prodded, utilities needed to be put in place, and neighbors' concerns needed gentle responses,” said Broida. “Schoor DePalma provided the technical skills in design, but they also brought excellent personal skills to each meeting, each plan review, each phone call, and each confrontation.”

While planning and construction went smoothly, the township and Schoor DePalma did face some challenges. The team agreed there should be tighter contractor qualifications in the future to ensure that, in addition to the required resources, they have ample time to devote to the project. Doing so would prevent possible construction delays.

Future development of Heuser Park is in the works. The plans include adding more paths leading to the Schuylkill River and developing the riverfront area, which has yet to be purchased by Upper Merion Township. “It's been identified as a high priority for the township to acquire this area in the future,” said Harris. Harris expects that the township will obtain enough funding to begin construction in the next five to 10 years.

Heuser Park

Project completion date: October 2005

Total cost: $5.2 million

AEC firm: Schoor DePalma

Location: Upper Merion Township, Pa.

Neat stat: Largest park area owned by Upper Merion Township.