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Chester County Press

Revised cost for New Garden Hills estimated at over $30 million

07/18/2023 04:17PM ● By Richard Gaw

Courtesy image    New Garden Hills will cost an estimated $30 million to complete, according to revised data supplied at the July 17 New Garden Township Board of Supervisors meeting.

By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

When the initial plans for the development of the 137-acre property known at Saint Anthony’s in the Hills were first introduced in 2021, the estimated price tag was $18 million. Those numbers, created as part of a master plan designed by the architectural firm known as YSM, included all of the bells and whistles of what would become the people’s park—a full offering of recreational activities that were included in a public survey that asked residents what they wished to see there.

While the development of the park is underway – a branding campaign has led to a name change and a trail network is expected to open this fall – the actual costs of what it will take to complete the many phases of New Garden Hills have remained undetermined, until now.

In a presentation before the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors on July 17, Township Manager Christopher Himes and Parks Superintendent Mike Buck said that the original estimate failed to include the price of demolition; the rehabilitation of buildings; the construction of new buildings; water, sanitary and electrical service; parking and other vital components of the park’s development. After crunching the numbers again – this time with the engineering firm of Pennoni Associates -- Himes and Buck delivered a crushing blow to the board: the actual cost of completing several phases of New Garden Hills will be $30,204,513.000.

“We never had an engineering analysis provided by our township that would identify engineers to do a full-scale assessment of what the New Garden Hills master plan would entail and the financial liability is in terms of continuing capital improvements being done to the property to achieve that original plan,” Himes told the board. “The goal for tonight is to understand what that is, to talk about the feasibility to achieve that goal and get sentiment from the board.”

The silver lining in the cloud of sticker shock reality is this: Phase I of the master plan to develop a nature trail at a cost of $56,000 is expected to be completed and open to the public this fall, and Phase II – the rehabilitation of the playgrounds in the northwest corner of the property -- is in its early stages. Yet, the master plan still calls for the development of additional phases that include the construction of an entrance and welcome hub, a community space, a beer garden, a community garden, a dog park, trail parking and community activity spaces, additional open space trails and a long-term plan to refurbish the 2,000-seat Greek amphitheater.

Against the backdrop of a master plan, its tiers of concepts and the escalated costs of each, the question on the table for the supervisors now becomes: How does the township find the money to complete the project, or at least portions of it? In short, what stays and what goes?

Himes introduced a financial feasibility scenario that spelled out possible directions the township could take to pay for the park. He said that the township currently has a net cash position of $35.3 million, but 86 percent of it is tied up in the general fund ($3.7 million), capital reserves ($472,000), capital improvements ($4.3 million) and $22 million that remains from the sale of the township’s wastewater system and is currently in an investment fund. The remaining 14 percent is earmarked for open space acquisition, liquid fuels and other essential costs.

While none of Himes’ scenarios yielded any easy answers or surefire financial resources, the supervisors brought up a larger issue and one that moving forward is likely to have a major impact on what the park will look like and its purpose: How does the township wish to define New Garden Hills -- as a virtually uninterrupted place of nature trails or a new destination for families who wish to enjoy recreation and activities?

“It was our understanding that Loch Nairn [Golf Club, purchased by the township in 2021 to become an open space public park] was supposed to be the passive recreation park, and [New Garden Hills] was going to be the park where we would invest in the future and do something that is not like any other park,” said board chairman David Unger. “To me, this park is no longer any fun for anyone less than 21 and anyone who doesn’t want to wander around with a buzz on. This is a park that will copy what Kennett [Square] did in terms of gentrifying the area.

“I was really and truly hoping that this would be an investment in the people who aren’t serviced in the community.”

Referring to the original concept for the park that was conceived by the former Board of Supervisors, supervisor Kristie Brodowski said, “It wasn’t passive recreation they were planning, and there was no tax increase and no financial support to make this come to life, so this current board has to sit here and make tough decisions, and it’s obnoxious, while they get credit for being the most successful board in the history of the township.

“It is frustrating, but we need to figure out what we need to do and go from there.”

Township resident Stan Lukoff recommended that the township form a resident advisory council to provide input and analysis as the township navigates its way through rough waters of determining the future of New Garden Hills.

As the township moves toward developing its FY 2024 budget, Himes encouraged the supervisors to provide him with their path forward on New Garden Hills.

“In the fall, we will need to identify what we want to do during those public budget discussions,” he said. “What do you want from the staff and what direction do you want us to facilitate for additional information in terms of what the best use of our funding is to do something in New Garden Hills?”

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