The Whitehall Road Regional Park has been in the works for more than a decade. Now, it’s closer to becoming reality.
In the past few years, the park’s fate was intertwined with the fate of a student housing development, which was stalled by a court battle.
The $13.5 million sales agreement for more than 40 acres along West Whitehall Road in Ferguson Township was finalized in December. The developer is slated to build The Cottages at State College, which will house about 1,000 residents in 268 units. The land upon which the Whitehall park will be built is adjacent to the development site.
“The closing of the agreement is a critical step toward the creation of a 100-acre regional park. As part of this agreement, Toll will provide agreed upon infrastructure support, including the construction of a sewage pumping station to help meet the needs of the new parkland,” Penn State said in a statement in December.
The budget for the first phase is $4.8 million.
The core of the park will be rectangular playing fields for various sports, including soccer, flag football, lacrosse, rugby and field hockey, said Jim Steff, Centre Region Council of Governments executive director. The hope is to also include a playground, restrooms, a walking trail, garden plots and a trailhead to the Musser Gap path.
He said the park will address a lot of needs the community has brought up over the past 10 years.
“If you want kids to do something other than sit in front of a screen, you need to make it easy for them to do that and this is a pretty accessible site,” Steff said.
And the first phase will likely only take up half of the 100-acre parkland, Steff said, which means that the community will have the opportunity to give input on what should fill the rest of the space.
The 2018 COG budget allocates $1.15 million for the preparation of land development plans, studies and bidding documents relating to the construction of the regional park’s first phase and $50,000 for consultant services.
Steff said it’s likely that less money will actually be spent.
There’s a master site plan that provides the “skeleton” of what the park will look like and what the main elements will be, but a specific land development plan will need to be submitted to Ferguson Township and receive approval, ultimately, from the board of supervisors.
In theory, if things go well, Steff said, the land development plan could be submitted and approved in 2018. The next step would be to develop bidding specifications and solicit proposals from contractors next winter. If all that occurred, construction could get underway in spring 2019.
And it would be a long time coming.
The parkland was acquired from Penn State in two tracts. The first, 75 acres, was purchased in 2008 for $230,775 by Centre Region COG and Ferguson Township, according to Penn State. The land was appraised at $15,000 per acre, but the purchase price was $3,077 per acre.
The second tract, 25 acres, was purchased in 2011 for $382,987, the appraised value of the land, by COG and Ferguson Township. According to Penn State, those 100 acres are “restricted for community use and to develop a regional park.”
Significant grant funding was provided by the Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, according to Centre Region Parks and Recreation.
Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority entered into a $7.6 million loan with Fulton Bank in 2011. The loan was taken out to fund the Whitehall park and the Oak Hall Regional Park.
In May, the loan was modified for a fifth time. The modification extends that deadline to withdraw the funds to June 2020.