LebTown recently sat down with Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello and Community and Economic Development administrator Janelle Mendoff to discuss plans for the futures of Coleman Memorial Park and Southwest Park, the city’s two largest recreational sites.

What’s happening at Coleman Memorial Park?

Coleman Park is the jewel of the City of Lebanon’s recreational facilities. The 99-acre tract in the city’s northwest corner, once the estate of the Coleman and Block families, was donated to the city in 1935 “for use as a public park that when improved will afford the citizens of the community a place of rest, recreation, entertainment and one of the finest natural parks in the country….”

Since then, generations of people from throughout the county have enjoyed its Fourth of July fireworks, amphitheater, athletic fields, picnic pavilions, and especially the Gingrich Memorial Pool, built in 1940.

Read More: Coleman Memorial Park, from the air and on the ground

But rising costs, sinking attendance, crumbling concrete, and a leak-prone, above-ground design led to the pool’s closure after the 2017 season. In 2019, City Council reluctantly voted to close it permanently. It was demolished in 2021.

The old pool’s footprint has been empty since, but plans to put a dog park on the spot are in their early stages, according to Capello.

“We knew we wanted to something where the pool was, and since I became mayor [14 years ago], we’ve been hearing ‘We want a dog park! We want a dog park!'”

They initially envisioned Southwest (“Optimist”) Park as the logical site, but “the problem with Optimist and putting a dog park there is we don’t have shade,” Capello said. “Coleman Park has shade.”

And so the preliminary idea of a splash pad at Coleman on the old pool’s footprint and a dog park at Optimist has been flipped.

“We have all these wonderful things happening at Coleman Park,” Capello said. “The bike park, really spectacular disc golf, wedding venues, all these things. A dog park kind of fits in.”

Mendoff learned of a dog park in Mount Joy, Lancaster County, “so we decided to check it out, and we absolutely loved it,” Capello said. “They have a little ‘meet and greet’ area where dogs can get to know each other. The main part has separate areas for large and small dogs.”

Capello and Mendoff want something similar at Coleman Park. Shade, grass, and loads of space for dogs to run.

Plans are still in the early stage, and construction contracts have yet to be awarded or a start date set.

“We have a contract with YSM Landscape Architects, whom we worked with many times before,” Mendoff said. “They’ve done several dog parks, including Mount Joy’s, and they’ve worked with us on other projects.”

According to Mendoff, YSM’s Ann Yost has visited and surveyed the old pool site and reviewed the park’s master plan. An engineer is preparing storm water runoff plans. “Now, we’re waiting for a design.”

Splash pad plans for Southwest Park in very early stages

According to Mendoff, the city is working with Rain Drop Products, a builder of “custom designed water parks,” and George Ely Associates, a playground designer, to come up with plans for a splash pad at Southwest Park. Both firms have contracts directly with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, meaning that the city could retain either or both without soliciting bids.

Capello said the project is still in the very early stages. “We are laying out for Rain Drop the amount of land we have, what features we may want, and learning what they might cost.”

A splash pad in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey, built by Rain Drop Products. The City of Lebanon is working with Rain Drop to design a splash pad – not necessarily similar to the one pictured – at Southwest Park. (wildwood365.blogspot.com)

Capello said a new pool for the city is not an option, due to cost and the decline in users in the last years of the old pool in Coleman Park. She cited feedback from young people she and former council member Wiley Parker received after it became apparent that the old pool was beyond repair.

“We found that many kids had pools in their back yards or close by, plus a lot of our kids are working or looking after their siblings while their parents work,” she said. “That told us we needed more of this type of feature as opposed to a new pool.”

While it’s too early to say what a splash pad would cost, Capello was certain that it will be far less than a pool, based on less water use, lower maintenance costs, and no need to pay lifeguards.

She added that Southwest Park already has concession and restroom facilities.

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...

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