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Haverford Reserve is Coming Into Being

INQUIRER, September 7, 2009

It took more than a decade and millions of dollars to come together, but the old Haverford State Hospital grounds are finally being transformed into 209 acres of open space, athletic fields, walking trails, and homes.

Youth football players held their first games on the artificial turf this weekend. About a third of the walking trails, which weave in and out of the woods, are open to residents, Haverford Township recreation director Tim Denny said. And the land, now called Haverford Reserve, is within reach of major roadways, including the Blue Route and West Chester Pike.

“It’s going to elevate this township in the next 20 to 30 years like nothing else,” Denny said Thursday as he walked over the spongy new turf field, where green dragonflies hovered. “To have this combination of amenities is exceptionally rare.”

The old hospital, closed in 1998, occupied 209 acres. The township bought the land from the state for $3.5 million and sold 40 acres of the eastern end of the parcel to developers for $17.5 million.

Two large age-restricted condominium buildings – with 198 units between them – and 100 single-family homes are planned for the 40-acre site. So far, one condominium building is up, with 32 units sold, said one of the developers, Todd Pohlig. Prices range from about $640,000 to $1.2 million.

Two single-family, carriage-style homes are open for tours, and so far, four have been sold, said David Mercuris, senior vice president of development for the Goldenberg Group. Prices range from $890,000 to just over a million, and all 100 homes should be built within five years, Mercuris said.

On the recreation side, two of the four multiuse athletic fields are complete, including the artificial-turf field that encompasses a football field and a baseball field. Lights for the synthetic fields should be working in the next few weeks, Denny said.

One natural-grass field is ready for soccer games, Denny said. Another grass field and a softball field are expected to be ready by the spring.

Township commissioners are expected to decide in the coming weeks how much to spend on the final piece of the plan: an indoor recreation center, scheduled to be built by 2011. Tomorrow, commissioners plan to meet to discuss an architectural contract for the center. They could vote on the matter as soon as Monday.

So far, the value of the land at the Haverford Reserve, a gem of open space in a heavily developed suburb, has paid for the new fields and trails. The costs for the fields and trails are still coming in, but township officials estimate there is between $5 million and $8 million left from the original $17.5 million.

The design and scope of the recreation center have changed dramatically in the past year. Plans for an indoor pool – the most expensive element of the rec center – were scrapped when officials learned that the YMCA wanted to build a branch at the site of the former Swell Bubblegum factory at Eagle and Lawrence Roads.

The YMCA, which is planning a two-floor, $20 million facility with both a competitive pool and a shallow family pool, said it would not go forward if the township built its own pool at the Haverford Reserve, said John Flynn, president of the YMCA of Philadelphia and Vicinity.

Township commissioners voted unanimously in November to take the Bubblegum site, a 6.3-acre parcel, by eminent domain. The family that owns the land, the Fenimores, have appealed to the court, asking for greater compensation than the $1.26 million offered by Haverford.

The township is working on a land lease with the YMCA that is expected to be finished by the end of the month. The YMCA is expected to be built by 2011 or 2012, Flynn said.

Even without the pool, township commissioners haven’t agreed on how the new recreation center should look. The Recreation Department has asked for proposals for a 35,000- to 40,000-square-foot building that would cost about $6 million, Denny said. The center would include a double gymnasium, an elevated indoor walking track, meeting rooms, and a nature and environmental learning center for children.

Some commissioners, such as Jeff Heilmann, say the township can make do with much less. Heilmann said he would like to spend only $3 million on the recreation center and keep some money in reserve.

“We definitely need gym space. There’s no question about it,” Heilmann said. “I don’t think it has to be outsized. There are other needs in the township.”

Commissioners say they want to hear what residents want. While some commissioners would like to hold onto extra cash, others say the money was meant for recreation.

“I think the township needs to … build the best facility it can with the resources we’ve got,” Commissioner Daniel Siegel said. “The funds are there for the purpose of building a facility,” he said, adding, “I don’t think this is the place to cut corners.”