Last month, in three distinct shapes, the design of the grassy field that will evolve into Beech Park emerged from the drawing board.
Landscape architects from 2.ink Studio, the firm contracted to design the park for Portland Parks and Recreation, presented the three possible designs for the public to ponder and review at an open house February 26 at Shaver Elementary School.
The new park will be located on 15.7 acres of former farmland that borders that school on Northeast 131st Avenue. After years of community meetings, delays in funding and reams of verbal and written feedback from the public, construction begins summer 2016 with completion targeted for spring 2017. Construction fees will range around $7.8 million, not including design, permit fees and other costs, which will be calculated in the near future.
The three designs, which architects affectionately dubbed Schemes A, B and C, share common features: a community core area with a shelter; a community garden; a picnic area; a playground; an interactive water feature; an off-leash dog area; walking paths; a skate park; a wildlife area; artwork; restrooms; a parking lot; and entrance and exit roads. However, these features in each of the three plans differed in size, number and location.
Schemes B and C also featured a basketball court and soccer field; Scheme A did not, keeping the large grassy space as an open, flexible field, leading designers to describe it the most “passive” of the three designs. Scheme C was the most “active,” with a full-court basketball arena and a large, formalized soccer field.
By mid-March, after submission of public comments (both mailed and posted online) ended March 13 and responses were reviewed, Britta Herwig, PP&R project manager for the park, said people seemed to be leaning toward Scheme B. That design, like a cautious politician, creates a middle-of-the-road balance between the two other designs—however, it has a few tweaks, such as the location of the community garden.
“It seems like people liked a balanced park that has a lot of neighborhood features that might be a little bit more passive and family/neighborhood-oriented; but then, they do like active recreation,” Herwig said. “Walking and soccer fields and basketball courts have come up as very popular elements. So it might be a balanced approach between active and passive.”
Although most of the public preferred to have a soccer field rather than the open lawn area in Scheme A, they were not as concerned with the size of it as they were with its use, she said.
“The use should be balanced between reserved uses for leagues [and] having access for the community’s spontaneous, unorganized games,” Herwig said.
Active play areas, not only for children but also for teenagers, are important, Herwig said. The walking areas, community spaces and community garden were important to the older adults who commented.
A couple of weeks after the meeting, Bill Lindekugel, a member of the Beech Park Advisory committee, said opinions vary among the neighbors about what elements they’d like to see in the park.
He gave a hypothetical example. “Let’s say I wanted a passive park, for whatever reason. I just want to be able to walk my dog and relax and garden, and I don’t want to be dodging soccer balls and all that. Well, somebody else might want an active park, because an active park means people are in it. It’s getting used and it’s safe.”
Lindekugel declined to give his personal preference because he felt all the public comments should be weighed and reviewed by the Parks staff, which, he maintained, would make a fair decision about which elements to include.
At the February 26 meeting, landscape architect Melinda Graham from 2.ink Studio told the crowd that many elements of the master plan from 2008 would be included in the park.
“What we continue to hear from people is that they want a place that is safe,” Graham said. “A place that reflects the diversity of the communities that live around the park and that provides something for every person, whether it’s a young child, a teenager, an adult, or an older person.”
The community feedback would help designers know which of those features to include and where they might be placed in the park. “Things will now have actual sizes,” she said. “They’ll have relationships to each other. We’ll start putting some real detail into the plan.”
She told the audience that three possible schemes would be presented, and they would be asked to choose which elements in each scheme they liked best.
Jonathan Beaver, another landscape architect from 2.ink Studio, showed the audience slides of the three scenarios. He stopped occasionally as a translator conveyed his words in Spanish to members of the audience. Pointing to a colorful slide, Jonathan showed that the south side of the Scheme A design was dotted with a series of circular walkways connecting features in the park.
His finger poised at the community core, Beaver explained it as a place where “people can gather and picnic, where the interactive water feature exists and where there’s a strong relationship to the playground.”
Cars would enter on the south side of the park at Northeast 122nd and 129th streets. The nearby parking lot would be “a pretty good distance from the houses and would have some vegetative buffer,” said Beaver “We’d like to develop a parking lot that doesn’t feel like a parking lot but feels like it’s part of the park.”
Native vegetation, including wildflowers and butterfly attractants, is planted around the park’s perimeter; stormwater is also managed in this area.
A one-acre off-leash dog area—smaller than ones in Schemes B and C—could be located next to the playground. The community center, which includes the interactive water feature, a large shelter and a heart-shaped space for smaller events, is placed north of the parking lot.
A flexible open lawn space would adjoin the playground. People could play with Frisbees there or practice tai chi, Beaver said. “It’s big and flat enough for a neighborhood soccer game.”
One side is steep enough to function as an amphitheater for movies or concerts by local bands. A lawn area might host individual activities, with enough flexible space for cultural events. A trellis could be installed in one section of that northern space. “It could be a quiet place where people could sit and read a book and relax, or potentially there would be a small shelter area, smaller than the large shelter at the south end of the park, [that] would have a relationship to the community gardens,” Beaver said.
There is also space for a linear skate park. Nearby is a 20,000-square-foot community garden containing about 30 plots that are 20 by 20 feet. A small plaza is created for harvest celebrations.
By contrast, Scheme B would feature looping paths encircling the park with a series of stormwater treatment bars. The parking lots would resemble Scheme A and hold 40 to 50 cars. However, it would differ by providing only one outside connection to the park, letting vehicles enter and exit only on Northeast 127th Avenue.
Scheme B’s 1.3 acre off-leash dog area is slightly larger than Scheme A’s. It would contain buffering against the houses on the side. The parking lot would also act as a buffer “so people aren’t bringing their dogs deep into the park,” Beaver said.
The design of the central core, the large shelter and the interactive water feature are similar to Scheme A, with clear views of Mt. St. Helens and beyond.
Scheme B features a four-person restroom instead of the one-person restroom in Scheme A. In this design, the lawn area slopes down, allowing the community space to be set up, possibly with an amphitheater for evening movies or music concerts.
The playground is slightly smaller in this scheme and is closer to the community core. “This gives kids the opportunity to run from the playground to the interactive water feature, back and forth,” he said. Nearby, an unprogrammed open space allows for spontaneous games. The community garden is medium-sized—16000 square feet with about 25 plots, plus several areas containing native habitat and treatments for stormwater.
A walkway leads down to a team area with two half-court basketball courts, a small skate area and an earthen mound with an exercise stair. A formalized smaller U-10 soccer field is placed nearby.
Scheme C has the longest access way of the three, with a great view of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood. Beaver called it “the most active of the three schemes” because it has the largest soccer field—size U-12—plus a larger team area, with a full-court basketball arena and a larger playground area. The restroom would accommodate six people to help support the larger soccer field. The team area might hold outdoor ping-pong tables and a kick version of volleyball. Additionally, a climbing wall is installed.
The parking lot resembles Schemes A and B, holding 40 to 50 cars. At half an acre, Scheme C’s dog park is the smallest of the three designs. This scheme also differs by providing an eight-car parking lot next to the dog park for pet owners to use.
The 12,000-square-foot community garden is also the smallest of the three designs, with slightly fewer than 25 plots.
A promenade at the north end of the park could be lined with trees and include a beautiful view of Mt. St. Helens.
After Beaver’s talk, Herwig told the crowd that the preliminary final design is presented to the community at a public meeting March 31 at Shaver. After that, planners work out details for the finished design based on public feedback from that meeting.
During the rest of 2015, the Parks department meets with other city agencies to work out stormwater treatment, road access and other details before construction can begin.
After the presentation, members of audience broke into small groups, each selecting the park’s area that held the most interest for them. When the small groups shared with the larger group, top concerns included safety; creating nighttime timed locking system, so no one can enter after hours; create separate areas for teens and smaller children; plant trees rather than bushes, so strangers can’t easily hide; and retaining large spaces for big family gatherings.
One man said although his group liked soccer, “We didn’t like the idea of having a reserved park. That would just invite tournaments and large-scale groups that would take over the park every Saturday,” he said. “Other groups in the community wouldn’t have the ability to use that space for their activities. We don’t want it to just be a soccer facility. It’s a broader-style park for the community.”
At the end of the meeting, participants filled out comment forms for Parks staff to review later.
Lindekugel, who is Argay Neighborhood Association’s parks chair, said the board “… is definitely in favor of the park. It’s not controversial. They understand that it’s an asset for the neighborhood. Any good neighborhood has a park in it. This neighborhood’s now going to have a [second, full service] park in it and it’s going to help solidify the neighborhood. It’s going to make it an attractive place to come and live—more than it already is.”