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HRM reveals plans for Fort Needham Park upgrades

HALIFAX – The municipality has unveiled new designs for Fort Needham Park in Halifax’s North End but not everyone is happy about the revamps.

The plans include more commemorative designs around the bell tower, including a memorial plaza, a stairway of remembrance and a walkway called “the shattered path”.

The designs are meant to better remember the Halifax explosion and honour its victims.

An aerial view of new designs around the bell tower in Fort Needham Park
An aerial view of new designs around the bell tower in Fort Needham Park HRM
The entrance to Fort Needham Park on Needham Street
The entrance to Fort Needham Park on Needham Street HRM
An artist's depiction of Blossom Plaza in the new Fort Needham Park
An artist's depiction of Blossom Plaza in the new Fort Needham Park Ekistics Plan & Design
An artist's drawing of another walkway on the west side of Fort Needham Park
An artist's drawing of another walkway on the west side of Fort Needham Park Ekistics Plan & Design
An artist's depiction of the new playgrounds and gardens in Fort Needham Park
An artist's depiction of the new playgrounds and gardens in Fort Needham Park Ekistics Plan & Design
An artist's depiction of the walkway called shattered path
An artist's depiction of the walkway called shattered path Ekistics Plan & Design
Phase 1 of the Fort Needham Park revamp
Phase 1 of the Fort Needham Park revamp HRM
Phase 2 of the Fort Needham Park revamp
Phase 2 of the Fort Needham Park revamp HRM
Phase 3 of the Fort Needham Park revamp
Phase 3 of the Fort Needham Park revamp HRM
“We’re looking at the area around [the bell tower] and [want to] improve its functionality,” said Carolle Koziak Roberts, landscape architect for HRM Parks and Recreation.

Other changes include moving the baseball diamond and football field to the east to accommodate for a new walkway on the west side of the park, re-grading different sections of the park so entrances are not as steep and creating more new garden and plaza spaces. The plans include a sensory playground, urban orchards and a community garden area.

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“It will be like an outdoor museum for people to be able to be in that space, to experience and understand the story [of the Halifax explosion] and also to be a wonderful recreational space for the local community,” said District 8 Councillor Jennifer Watts.
“[We’re] really trying to help people understand, not necessarily through words but through the actual experience of being there what the impact of that explosion was. It was huge. It was dramatic and devastating.”

The plans come with a $7.9 million price tag, which Koziak Roberts said is the result of the commemorative and interpretive pieces that would not normally appear in a regular neighbourhood park.

Worries from dog lovers

Watts said the biggest concern she is hearing from residents is potential changes to the park’s off-leash dog area. That is up in the air while the municipality reviews its off-leash dog strategy.

“I was expecting there would be concern and it was important for people to name that [at the public consultation meeting Thursday night],” she said.

Patti Bruce has lived beside the park for 20 years and takes her dog there often.

She is a fan of all the changes but said removing the off-leash dog park would be a bad idea.

“That would be horrible,” she said.

“There’s no off-leash dog parks around. If they take away this one, that leaves the entire North End with no off-leash park.”

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Moving forward

Michael Abraham has lived beside the park his whole life and said he spent time there every day when he was growing up.

However, he is skeptical of the changes that have been proposed.

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“The memorial is simple. It’s there. It serves the purpose,” he said.

“I think the park is just great the way it is. I’m not trying to be negative about it but I don’t see the point.”

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Abraham also has concerns about what may happen if there is higher traffic to the park as a result of the changes.

“When there’s sa football practice and you’re talking a few dozen kids, there’s no parking on the street. There’s no space. The city, I don’t believe, is prepared to support an increase in the population of the park,” he said.

The plans will now go to the Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee before making its way to Regional Council.

If approved, the expected completion date will be December 2017, which is the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion.