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Vol. LXIV, No. 18
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
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Herbaceous Plants in Harrison Street Park Spark Debate Between Neighbors, Borough

Dilshanie Perera

Perennial plants with whimsical common names like purple lovegrass, little bluestem, and turtlehead were among those that provoked debate between neighbors, Borough elected officials, and staff at last week’s Council meeting.

The governing body eventually decided to set aside $30,000 for the herbaceous species to be planted in Harrison Street Park, which is currently undergoing renovations. The monies are contingent on formal approvals that were discussed at Tuesday’s Borough Council meeting (after Town Topics press time).

A Saturday meeting with neighbors and landscape architect firm Edgewater Design was reported to have gone well, with Borough Engineer Chris Budzinski noting there was “agreement on bed locations, and plant material.”

Work on Harrison Street Park began in October of last year and was on hold during the winter. Currently, the Borough has paid $252,000 of the contract price of $485,500 to JC Landscape Construction Management, Mr. Budzinski said.

In an earlier version of the contract, the installation of 3,900 herbaceous plants was expected to cost $65,000, so the Borough decided not to include final decisions about perennials in the document, with the expectation that they would make the determinations later.

“A remaining balance of $42,000 is unspent today,” Mr. Budzinski told Council, adding that the contractor was willing to install 2,100 herbaceous plants for $25,000 to $30,000. The benefit of planting now was that “the contractor is mobilized, on site, and hungry for work,” while the downsides included “maintenance of these plants, and the initial watering of this many plants,” he said.

The perennials would be located primarily at the entrances to the park on Harrison Street and Aiken Avenue, as well as low-graded swale areas throughout the site.

Council member Barbara Trelstad noted that the Borough’s Public Works Department had advised against the herbaceous plantings, owing to the kind of maintenance needed to ensure that the flora thrive in their early stages. “Maybe we can increase some shrubs, but let’s take a deep breath and say no to perennials,” she added, with Jenny Crumiller agreeing that “it’s a lot of money.”

Council President Andrew Koontz contended that maintenance could be “an opportunity for the public to take ownership of the park,” as well as a recreational outlet. “We’ve gotten this particular work done for far less than what we anticipated … and the money is within the contract already.”

“But not putting them in would save the cost of the plantings,” David Goldfarb remarked.

Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi said, “It’s going to be a beautiful urban-type park. I’d hate to see us shortchange the entrances. It won’t be overburdensome maintenance, and I’d love seeing the project completed.”

Neighbors and advocates for the park urged Council to approve the perennials. Resident Clifford Zink noted that those living in the park’s surroundings had been working on plant maintenance at the site for eight years, and would continue to do so. “Let’s complete the job.”

Council member Kevin Wilkes made a motion to set aside $30,000 for the perennial plantings, contingent upon a weekend meeting with neighbors, as well as formal approvals at the following Council meeting. The motion passed, with Ms. Trelstad opposing the measure on the grounds that the Public Works Director Wayne Carr should be involved in the decision.

With an estimated 75 percent of renovations to the park complete, Mr. Budzinski anticipated that the project would be finished by the end of May.

Aside from the perennial plantings, 70 canopy and understory trees, as well as 81 shrubs are being installed. With final grading and seeding, certain parts of the park, like the major field area, will be fenced off until the grass is well established, “but the majority of the park, and the play equipment, will all be accessible when the park opens,” Mr. Budzinski said.

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