Public park spaces and facilities serve an essential role in our communities by providing a place for families and friends to gather together, enjoy nature, and also contribute to the environment by preserving and conserving natural resources and wildlife habitats. But how does a park get built and what is required in the engineering design process? Justin explains the Parks and Recreation (P&R) process and how TWM handles these kinds of design projects.
What steps are involved in the typical planning process or general sequence of events when beginning a P&R project?
The typical planning process for a new park or a park renovation includes a needs analysis, public input on the types of amenities desired for the park, and an inventory of existing park system features. Some of the typical steps include:
- Feasibility Study | There is a tremendous amount of time and effort that goes into planning for a park project and one of the major items is the feasibility study. During a feasibility study TWM provides a broad array of services to ensure the project will be successful. We review the site for floodplain encroachments, make submittals to agencies to clear the site for endangered species, wetlands, and archaeological signoff, and provide cost estimating to ensure the project can be built within the specified budget or to determine a budget for grant applications and fundraising.
- Surveying | Land surveying services are needed at the inception of the project to ensure the design process goes smoothly. It’s important to provide an accurate depiction of existing topography and features of the site using the latest surveying technologies. In many cases, future or existing park areas contain rough terrain, numerous facilities, and other encumbrances, which require the use of mobile and/or aerial LiDAR. LiDAR technology provides the safest, accurate, and most cost-effective method to collect the data needed for design.
- Design Process (conceptual master plan, transportation, infrastructure, etc.) | The planning and design process is one of the most important factors in the development of a new park and recreational facility. The planning stage includes public input, coordination with the owner and a needs assessment. The next step is to ensure all aspects of the needs assessment are incorporated into the overall development. Transportation planning also plays a major role in any successful park project. It’s crucial to determine if there’s adequate access to the park by multiple modes of transportation such as walking and biking to and from the park and to plan for enough parking and restroom accommodations to serve the park users.
- Permitting Process | A wide array of permits are required for a typical park project. These include a submittal to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the State Historic Preservation Officer to clear the site of endangered species, wetlands and cultural resources, and land disturbance permit through the Environmental Protection Agency. If a lake or streams are involved, it could include a 404 permit through the United States Army Corps of Engineers and a dam classification and permitting through the DNR Office of Water Resources.
- Construction | This phase ensures the project is being constructed to the approved plans and specifications. Civil engineers are tasked with being the eyes and ears of the client on-site. TWM provides a wide array of construction phase services to handle this portion of a parks and recreation project. Our team verifies in place quantities, processes pay requests, completes a final punch list with the owner and contractor, and processes final closeout documentation.
How does aesthetic value and conservation/natural resources affect the master plan design?
While completing a master plan for a park project, it’s key to conserve and utilize as many of the natural features of the ground as possible. This includes avoiding any major impacts to wooded areas and existing lakes and streams. The goal is always to conserve as much of the natural land and topography as possible while providing the desired amenities for the park. Many times, it’s possible to utilize existing natural features and turn them into amenities for the park, such as walking / hiking trails through wooded areas.
What are the steps to getting funding or grants in place?
There are many sources utilized to fund park projects and can include private donations, fundraising by the community, state and/or federal grants, and for smaller projects some Counties have funding sources for park upgrades / enhancements.
Is it difficult to get the public involved and what are the ways to positively involve residents’ input?
Almost all major parks and recreation projects include some form of public involvement. Whether it’s a public informational meeting or a task group that helps steer the planning for a park, public involvement is always very important to a successful project. The public and community are the ones who will utilize this resource the most. Our goal as engineers / planners is to ensure the project meets their needs.
How does TWM successfully shepherd the goals of a project when alternative ideas/viewpoints are competing for approval?
Planning and engagement are key factors. Ideally, we gather information and opinions early in the process, and try to incorporate as many of these thoughts into the master plan as possible. It’s very important to be open-minded and practice good listening skills to ensure the needs of the client and residents are met. We frequently act as mediators in helping all parties involved come to terms with different viewpoints.
What are some environmental concerns that need to be addressed?
With any development project there are always concerns in regard to the environmental impacts. Through the permitting process, the sensitive areas are identified and avoided where possible. Also, the impacts to the natural features are avoided and minimized. There are many features that can be incorporated into the design to minimize impacts, such as pervious pavement, rain gardens, and bioswales for stormwater runoff. Other options include the incorporation of solar panels into the design to help offset the energy consumption of park facilities as well as utilizing native and drought-tolerant landscaping and trees.
When designing a successful parks and recreation project, thoughtful planning, design, and implementation are critical components that need to be addressed throughout the process. The land development experts at TWM use their technical expertise and emphasize a collaborative approach to transform park projects from a vision into reality!
To learn more about parks and recreation engineering, visit our Land Development page.