Reaching back to his days as a student beginning in 1967, Bilsky says, “From the time I first came to Penn, everybody talked about how we don’t have enough playing fields and outdoor surfaces.” He expects Penn Park to put an end to that longstanding complaint. “As you add those two [synthetic-turf] fields, and then the outfield of the softball stadium, and then Franklin Field, you’ve gone from one facility that had a surface and lights, to four.

“So you can now not only program much more than you ever did before, but you can do it in a rational way,” he adds, noting that Penn has 1,000 student-athletes competing for space. “So you won’t have intercollegiate teams having to practice at five in the morning anymore—which is not only not ideal, but it also impacts their academic schedules. Then, of course, you can now schedule your club and intramural programs as well. They’re the beneficiaries, because now they can play more, and at regular times.”

And they won’t have to stop come the first snowfall. The Dunning-Cohen Champions’ Field and Air Structure [“Gazetteer,” Sept|Oct 2010], a giant temperature-controlled bubble that will stretch over one of the new fields during winter, promises more functionality at a lower cost than a field house. “Instead of having a field house with an infield allowing maybe 40 yards,” Bilsky says, “we now have an infield that’s as long as any field that exists, [under a roof that’s] probably 70 feet high. So you can play football, baseball, do anything in there.”

For David Cohen, the park “hits three critical University and city priorities.”

“Number one, it’s a grand-slam home run for the students,” he says. “We have this great urban campus, and students love our campus. Add a layer of green space and park land with athletic fields right up against the river, with the skyline of the city right over your shoulder—I mean, what an amazing amenity to add to the University’s portfolio. If you’re a student at this University, it’s another wow space on the campus that makes you realize what a special place the University of Pennsylvania is. Number two, it’s a great statement about the University’s commitment to green, and to environmental repurposing. I can’t tell you how proud I am as chair of the trustees ... What a wonderful statement to make for our commitment to the environment and to green than to spend almost $50 million developing a park. And the third element is that it’s the perfect expression of Penn’s connection to the city of Philadelphia.”

Gutmann echoes those points, and puts the last one into historical context.

“Everybody’s connection to Penn goes beyond our academic excellence, even if it begins with our academic excellence,” she says. “ We are a community. And we’re a community of people who believe in what higher education can contribute to the world. That’s Penn’s trademark. It goes as far back as our founder, Ben Franklin.  We’re not an ivory tower; we are a university that’s dedicated to showing the difference we can make in the world. And our world begins right here at home.”

Musing on how it feels, seven years into her presidency, to preside over the accomplishment of this long-sought goal, Gutmann turns to another historical analogy.

“As old as Penn is, it feels to me a little as I imagine the American pioneers felt when they ventured into a new territory and then developed it into something,” she says. “There’s a great sense of, I just have to say pride and privilege, that as president I could help transform the space, and to transform it for everybody. I’ve thought my whole career, and especially as president of Penn, that what Penn stands for is making a difference to our community. And this is such a palpable difference.

“Frankly, it’s beyond my expectations.”

Penn Park by the Numbers

2,000,000 Average number of gallons of storm water collected annually by the underground cisterns.

300,000 Watts of energy saved per hour through state of the art “green” lighting system.

250,000 Square feet of synthetic athletic fields not requiring mowing, fertilizer, or water.

250,000 Square feet of sod planted in the park.

157,000 Square feet of meadow grass planted.

40,000 Cubic yards of engineered planting soil brought on site.

2,200 Underground piles to support landforms and structures.

530 New trees planted, including a range of species such as White Pine, Metasequoia, Larch, Balsam Pine, Catalpa, Hackberry, and Swamp White Oak.

470 Seats in multipurpose stadium.

200 Viewing stand capacity for the Hamlin Tennis Center.

14 Acres of asphalt acquired by Penn from the United States Post Office.  

3 Pedestrian bridge connections to access the Park, including Paley Bridge, Weave Bridge, and Walnut Street Bridge.

2 Acres of open green fields including South Lawn, Picnic Grove, South Green.



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COVER STORY: Penn Connected By Trey Popp
Photgraphy by Greg Benson

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The non-athletic—or those just resting—are welcome, too.

See a slideshow of photos from Penn Park Field Day on September 17,
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©2011 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 10/28/11