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Could improvements be coming to Andre Reed Park? Allentown, school district officials discuss plans

The baseball field is seen Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, at Andre Reed Park in Allentown. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)
The baseball field is seen Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, at Andre Reed Park in Allentown. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)
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Students, coaches, alumni and residents gathered Tuesday night at Dieruff High School in Allentown to discuss how to improve the athletic facilities at nearby Andre Reed Park, which is owned by the city and used by Dieruff athletes.

The community conversation came more than four months after Allentown school directors publicly asked City Council to consider leasing a section of the park to Allentown School District for 99 years at an annual cost of $1, so that it could spearhead upgrades to benefit student athletes.

Instead of a lease agreement, the city and school district will explore how to make necessary improvements together to make the space better for students and residents.

The park, which sits right next to the East Side high school on North Irving Street, is used by Allentown student athletes for soccer, baseball, softball, marching band and sometimes football practices.

Coaches and students said the fields are not safe, clean nor on par with the facilities of their athletic peers in the region.

Keith Brader, Dieruff’s head baseball coach, said the baseball field “isn’t in great condition,” and there are holes in the grass from other sports teams and residents using the outfield.

Julien Madison, a junior catcher, said the team does “the best we can” with the park field, but uneven ground causes injuries because it’s hard to anticipate where a ball will bounce. Madison sprained his ankle playing on the field last year when he didn’t see a pothole in the grass.

“Also, there’s bottles that are broken, there’s rocks that are all over,” Brader said, adding athletes spend time before each practice cleaning up trash from the field.

Other problems include dog feces left on the field, dirt bikes driven in the grass and residents walking through the middle of games. There’s also no bathroom access for fans.

“When [athletes] go to other fields and they see the type of facilities that all these other teams and schools have, they feel embarrassed when we bring people to our field,” he said.

A 2021 feasibility study showed Dieruff’s athletic facility needs are critical. In June, the district estimated park renovations to meet these athletic needs would cost nearly $6.8 million.

The district’s proposed updates to the park include creating baseball, softball and football/soccer fields, as well as other amenities for spectators. Park land that includes basketball courts and a pool would not be part of the proposed updates.

At the City Council meeting in the fall, school directors and students discussed the potential for fencing in the park to stop littering and disruptions to games.

Barry Robb, 74, a local resident who has played sports at the park since 1961, said he came to the Tuesday community meeting because he’s afraid the park will be less accessible to residents, adding he supports improvements being made to the park’s athletic facilities.

“I do not want to hear that this is just going to be for the Dieruff football team and soccer team and nobody else is going to play down there,” he said. “This is what it’s all about. It’s a kids’ park, this is a public park.”

Mayor Matt Tuerk said the park will remain public, and fencing isn’t on the table due to past state and federal funding that mandates public use of the park cannot be restricted. However, Tuerk said decision-makers can explore other ways to keep dirt bikes off the fields.

Tuerk said he’s been discussing updates at Andre Reed Park since 2022 when the conversation arose with former schools Superintendent John Stanford about needed upgrades, and Dieruff’s athletic director has been pushing for improvements at the site for years, Tuerk said. But multiple leadership transitions in both the city and school district, coupled with the pandemic, have delayed progress on any potential project.

“This is what we’ve been trying to get to, a place where we can have a conversation,” Tuerk said.

The community conversation Tuesday night was meant to gather feedback from stakeholders on the plan put forth by the district last year, so decision-makers can respond to questions and begin planning for site development.

“This is an important piece,” Tuerk added. “This is our residents and our learning community contributing feedback about what we should do on the site.”

  • Dieruff soccer player Elvin Uruchima controls the soccer ball Wednesday,...

    Dieruff soccer player Elvin Uruchima controls the soccer ball Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, at Andre Reed Park in Allentown. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • The Dieruff marching band practices near the soccer team Wednesday,...

    The Dieruff marching band practices near the soccer team Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, at Andre Reed Park in Allentown. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • The baseball field is seen Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, at...

    The baseball field is seen Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, at Andre Reed Park in Allentown. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • The baseball field is seen Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, at...

    The baseball field is seen Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, at Andre Reed Park in Allentown. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

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Tuerk said the land was originally donated to the city by the estate of Harry C. Trexler, the influential local general and businessman who died in 1933. Because the park property was donated and entered into the public trust, there are legal processes that present a challenge to the district’s original lease proposal.

“We can’t simply give [the land] to the district, we can’t simply lease it to the district,” Tuerk said. “We have to clear some hurdles in doing those things, but while we do that, we look at the alternative options.”

Moving forward, the city and school district will collaborate on the project along with state Sen. Nick Miller’s office, St. Luke’s University Health Network and the family of Andre Reed, the Hall of Fame football player and Dieruff graduate for whom the park is named.

“As we continue to plan, we’ll come back to the community and begin to ensure that we understand together our collective plan and timeline for how we move forward,” Superintendent Carol Birks said.

As specific updates are determined and implemented, the city will maintain ownership of the land and work with the district to find a third-party sponsor to implement the project. The district and city would then work out operating and maintenance agreements for the park.

Tuerk said funding for the updates could come from multiple sources, such as the district, the city’s general funds, philanthropic organizations, and state and federal grants.

As to what residents and community members want to see at the park, some called for safer fields, security cameras, crossing guards and more parking.

Dieruff coaches said better facilities would encourage students to participate in sports. Some teams that travel to other fields could also save time after school if they had space to practice at the park.

Chris Newhard, head boys track and field coach, said his athletes spend five hours each week traveling to J. Birney Crum Stadium on the other side of Allentown to use the track. This takes time out of their day and affects academics, he said.

Newhard said he was “extremely disappointed” not to see a track included in the initial proposal for park updates.

“But I’m hopeful and optimistic that the city will include that in a later draft,” he added.

Dave Lutte, head football coach, said updates at Andre Reed would improve Dieruff’s football program. Students would no longer travel by bus to Keck Park, another city park, for practice.

“That would be the biggest positive impact on the team that you could imagine because now we could incorporate the things that a normal program does, pre-practice meetings, post-practice lifting,” he said. “Just to be able to operate a ‘normal’ program the way all of our opponents operate would be a huge advantage for us.”

Morning 첥Ƶ reporter Jenny Roberts can be reached at jroberts@mcall.com.

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