Delco forges a process to turn massive Don Guanella property into ‘second to none’ park

The goal is to use public input to transform the 213 acres once owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia into the county’s largest public park.

The wooded 213-acre site at Sproul Road and Reed Road in Marple Township that was home to the Don Guanella School. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The wooded 213-acre site at Sproul Road and Reed Road in Marple Township that was home to the Don Guanella School. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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Delaware County Council has approved a master planning process to decide how it will shape the recently acquired 213-acre former Don Guanella School property in Marple Township into the county’s largest public park.

The untouched forested area will likely be left alone, with the possible exception of a new light trail system. So a main focus of the planning process will be the 47 acres that have already been disturbed with buildings and other additions.

“There’s a whole lot of possibilities out there, and we want the community to weigh in on what they want to see happen there,” Delaware County Council member Elaine Schaefer said Friday. “This will be the largest park in our county system, and it will service all of our residents from all over the county. So we’re entering this process where we’re going to solicit everyone’s opinion from all over the county of what they’d like to see at that park.”

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The theme of the process will be public participation and community input. The county will host at least two public meetings and form six focus groups, and there will be a series of surveys as well as interviews with community leaders. A timeline for when all this would happen has not been set.

A Plan Advisory Committee will be created, consisting of members of the public, elected officials, Delaware County employees, and representatives from the county’s Green Space Task Force and the county Park Board. Information on how to apply for a position on the board will be available on the county website in a few weeks.

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According to a 75-page proposal drafted by the lead consultants, Ann Toole & Associates, one of the first orders of business for the committee will be rolling out a “name the park contest.”

“This is really an exciting next step in this really colossally important purchase that we made. And I think we’re all anxious to see what the community comes up with in terms of use. And I know that we’re going to end up with a just top-rate park that is second to none in this entire region,” Schaefer said.

Delaware County obtained the property through eminent domain from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Maple Glen Development LLC last year. The massive plot of land had previously been shopped around by the archdiocese in 2014.

However, hungry developers set on clearing the land of its trees and greenery had the Marple Township Board of Commissioners staving off proposals for years — until the County Council swooped in to preserve the area.

After putting $21 million on the table as “equitable just compensation,” the county is closing in on completion of the eminent domain process.

“I think there’s some ongoing negotiations and back and forth at this point. I don’t think we have a settled path forward yet, but we do have the title,” Schaefer said.

The community-driven brainstorming sessions will begin nonetheless, with the planning process expected to finish up by December 2022.

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