The Allegheny Arboretum at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and IUP have hired a firm to complete an environmental study as the next step in advancing the IUP Confluence Discovery Park.

Confluence Discovery Park is to be sited along Oakland Avenue, adjacent to IUP’s Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. Once completed, it will serve as an outdoor classroom and laboratory for various programs at IUP and area schools. 

The park site marks where Marsh Run flows into Stoney Run, which ultimately flows to the Conemaugh River, a major tributary to the Allegheny River. The master plan for the park, completed in 2019, includes restored streams, new ponds, riparian forests, mesic meadows, and naturalized plantings.

A review of the environmental studies that have been done of the site by an environmental firm is one of the initial recommendations of the master plan.

The ARM Group, with headquarters in Hershey, is a nationally recognized engineering and science firm that performs civil and environmental, electrical and automation, and technical field services work in the mid-Atlantic area and throughout the United States, has been hired to do this initial review. It has been recognized nationally by the Engineering News-Record as a Top 200 Environmental Firm and a Top 500 Design Firm in the US. 

Members of the team will review existing environmental and regulatory files, calculation and conceptual design review, summary report, and regulatory meeting activities.

The purpose of the review, which is funded by private donations, is to assess the technical, financial, and regulatory feasibility of implementing the stream and wetland restoration and enhancement concepts and development plans set forth in the Confluence Park Master Plan and provide guidance on the next steps needed to bring the plan to fruition.

The ARM Group will also coordinate meetings with representatives from the Confluence Discovery Park Arboretum Committee, IUP, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) Northwest Regional Office regarding intending future use of the CDP site.

“This is an important step forward since this will provide the arboretum and IUP with an Action Plan for implementation of the CDP Master Plan,” Jerry Pickering, Executive Director of the Allegheny Arboretum and retired IUP biology faculty, said.

The Allegheny Arboretum at IUP is governed by a volunteer board of directors and projects are funded through private donations and grants. It includes the entire 354-acre IUP campus, serving as a living museum devoted to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of trees, shrubs, and vines. The award-winning arboretum has as its goal to document and care for the more than 1,200 trees (104 tree species) on the north campus. Donations to the arboretum also are used for beautification efforts (benches and other installations).  

The Allegheny Arboretum holds Level 1 Accreditation from the the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and the Morton Arboretum. The Allegheny Arboretum at IUP is also recognized as an accredited arboretum in the Morton Register of Arboreta, a database of the world's arboreta and gardens dedicated to woody plants. Originally accredited in 2014, the Allegheny Arboretum was ranked the tenth most beautiful college arboretum by Best College Reviews in 2015.

The Confluence Discovery Park site occupies a strategically important gateway to the university and the Indiana community, Pickering said.

The conversion of this industrial brownfield site into a multi-use, educational facility will result in a transformational change for IUP, the Indiana community, and the region. The name Confluence Discovery Park not only reflects the educational opportunity for students to discover and learn, but it will also provide people of all ages who visit the park the opportunity to discover and learn about the environment and community in which we live,” Pickering said. “Education has been the primary goal of the Allegheny Arboretum since its inception.”

Additional goals for the Confluence Discovery Park, as highlighted in the master plan, are to demonstrate innovative remediation and land restoration techniques; celebrate the confluence of water, academia, and community; and catalyze local open space restoration, sustainable development, and economic development. The Confluence Discovery Park wetland functions as a stormwater retention pond that fluctuates throughout the year.

In addition to Pickering’s leadership, two members of IUP’s Facilities Engineering and Construction group are serving as co-project managers: Director of Planning and Construction Mitchell Peffer and Associate Director of Facilities Planning and Construction Steven Markiewicz.

“The improvements to this area, and to the site of what could become the Confluence Discovery Park, would make a beautiful impact to not only the environment and the local community but would also have a positive impact on marine and aquatic life downstream of this site,” Peffer said. “It would be a very welcomed improvement of an area which are mostly brownfield sites.”

The study, which will begin in September, is expected to take between four and six weeks, as it involves review of a number of documents – in some cases, the initial review -- about the four properties that include this 39-acre site, Pickering said.

“The next step after the study is to develop an action plan, including the review of the environmental study, and how we can move forward and what needs to be done. Then we will meet with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to discuss the findings,” Pickering said. “By the end of year, we should have a good idea on next steps and the feasibility of the project.”

The project is planned in phases. The first phase of three is one of the most comprehensive phases, focusing on restoration of the waterways (Marsh Run and Stoney Run) which includes addressing storm water management. “Once we have the streams rechanneled and restored, that’s the backbone of the Park, and we can move forward with trails, buildings and outdoor classrooms,” Pickering said.

While the timeline for completion of Confluence Park will remain flexible and dependent on the outcome of this study, the original master plan projected that the project would be underway by 2030. 

The Confluence Discovery Park planning group will continue to seek private donations and grants, including Green Grant funds.

The Confluence Discovery Park Master Plan is posted on the Allegheny Arboretum website.