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Chester County Press

New Garden votes to have hazardous structures demolished at Saint Anthony's

08/16/2022 04:06PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo courtesy of New Garden Township       A former caretaker’s house at Saint Anthony’s in the Hills is just one of several structures that will be demolished, as part of New Garden Township’s long-term plans to develop the 137-acre property it owns to a community park.

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Within the collective consortium of townships in southern Chester County, New Garden Township may be the municipality with the most on its plate, and of its hefty agenda, the item with the most at stake may be the township’s decision to convert the 137-acre Saint Anthony’s in the Hills property to a municipal park.

Purchased in 2018 from St. Anthony of Padua in Wilmington, the township has spent the last few years collaborating with YSM, a York, Pa.-based engineering firm and township residents to develop a master plan that envisions the park as both a paradise of nature trails and open space and a bustling home for recreational activities.

Getting there, however, first requires the township to do extensive work to put the safety of its residents first, and on Aug. 15, the Board of Supervisors gave approval for the township to elicit bids to demolish several unsafe and outdated structures in the park that date back to the era when Father Roberto Balduccelli oversaw the property as a refuge for inner-city youth.

Demolition of hazardous structures is part of Phase 1 of the entire Saint Anthony’s in the Hills project.

Structures that are slated for demolition include a caretaker home at the park’s Route 7 entrance; a gazebo and fencing; a shed at the park’s northern area near Route 41; several structures at the miniature golf course and adjacent playground that include a small log cabin tower, a scary gazebo, haunted bird house, a water wheel ride and compound play rides and slides; a paddle boat rental shack; all buildings, fencing, gateways and light posts throughout the park’s aviary; a creekside mosquito oasis structure north of the park’s Greek amphitheater; a day camp building and a puppet theater.

Supervisors call for “phased” approach to park plans

At the start of their presentation, township Park & Open Space Superintendent Mike Buck and township Manager Ramsey Reiner said the overall purpose for the demolition will be to clear the decayed and dangerous structures throughout the park in order to open the way for the implementation of the park’s master plan, provide better public access and improve safety conditions.

Nearly from the start of the presentation, the board called for Buck and Reiner to introduce the park’s plan in a more “phased” approach.

“When we’re evaluating this, it’s important to know where we want to arrive at, and not just look at these projects in isolation,” supervisor Troy Wildrick said. “If it could be presented in order to achieve Goal A …and then go to Goal B and likewise, we [will better] understand why we’re making decisions, not just indiscriminately looking at a building here and there.”

Reiner recalled an earlier meeting with the board, when it was emphasized that removing the property of hazardous structures was a top priority.

“We had talked about cleaning up the property and working on the infrastructure, and the understanding that I got was that there was a real want to get into this park sooner,” she said. “We’ve tried to modify that plan and find a way to make it accessible sooner. This is what we have come up with, because originally, we were told to clear it and get the safety [aspects] done.

“This is the tip of the iceberg, but we have to start somewhere.”

“I’m doing all of these little things in a silo as needed, or as I feel am being told to place one priority over another,” Buck said. “But we don’t have the big picture of how do we get from here to here. What phases do we focus on versus what phases we may not be interested in.”

“We still need a vision,” said Kristie Brodowski. “I would feel better about spending the money if I saw where we are going, and I am struggling with that.”

During the discussion, Board Chairman Steve Allaband recommended that the township hire a third-party construction firm to manage the entirety of the Saint Anthony’s in the Hills park project. The concern, Allaband said, was whether or not the township currently has the proper resources to fully implement YSM’s master plan for the project, which was approved by the township board on July 19, 2021.

“How do we get this done internally? I am struggling with that,” Allaband said. “What I am saying is that we need help, and [a project of this size] may be beyond the daily function of the township staff and the board of supervisors, all of whom still work full time.”

“I think it makes sense, and I think it’s something that we need to consider,” Wildrick said of Allaband’s recommendation. “We only have so much bandwith, so [outsourcing a construction management firm] could be an alternative.”

Additional Saint Anthony’s projects

Buck also provided an update of the Phase 1 rehabilitation of the park, which includes the development of a picnic area in the northeast quadrant of the property near Route 41. He said that Cedarville Engineering has completed a site survey and a wetland delineation study, and will follow up with the completion of a concept design plan for the area that will likely reach the board in late September or early October for approval. Buck said that the expected timeline for the completion of the picnic area will be early in 2024.

That section of the park will include the removal of existing playground equipment, the creation of a small trail that will have ADA compliance, as well as the restoration of riparian buffers.

Buck said that Cedarville Engineering provided the township with a construction plan and cost estimate for the repair a failing electrical culvert that provides electricity to the park. He said that for now, the plan will be to shut down the culvert for a period of time and request that Cedarville Engineering finalize a development plan for a new and permanent power source for the park.

Another recent project in the park has been the upgrade of the historical “white house” which will include the installation of a new HVAC system, the replacement of the house’s windows and continued work on the repair of the house’s roof.

Buck also said that a local arborist reassessed a recent project that cut down hazardous trees throughout the park and found additional trees that are recommended to be removed for safety concerns. The cost of the second phase of tree removal will be $4,500 and will be completed by Mitsdorfer Brothers Tree Service.

Township resident and volunteer Stan Lukoff announced that a planned riparian buffer planting project in the area near the former soccer fields at Saint Anthony’s recently received a grant in the amount of $33,007.35 from the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts (PACD) that will cover the full amount of the estimated cost to complete the project. A request for estimate has been sent to six potential vendors to determine which company will oversee the plantings.

 The planting is scheduled to take place in early November and will include the planting of 400 trees, 125 shrubs, as well as the installation of 65 live stake plants that will create a nursery and be used to fight against possible streambank erosion in the three-acre project area. Lukoff said that in addition to planting, the project will include signage that will be used to help educate the public about the importance of riparian buffer planting.

In other township business

Public Works Director Ken Reed told the board that the steel plates that will be used to repair the sinkhole on Buttonwood Road are now on site, as well as other machinery that will be used. He said that DEP requested that the department hold off on beginning the repair until they issue an emergency permit.

Lieutenant Joseph Greenwalt of the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department (SSCRPD) updated the supervisors about upcoming active threat response training sessions the department will participate in. The first event will take place on Aug. 27 at Kennett Middle School, and any residents who wish to participate in the training may call the department at 610-268-2907. Greenwalt said the department will be hosting two training events for civilians in October at the SSCRPD.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].