Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Green School Challenge: Graduates Put to the Test Designing a Sustainable Park

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Green School Challenge: Graduates Put to the Test Designing a Sustainable Park

Article excerpt

The inaugural graduating class of NRPA's newest professional development school, the Green School, tackled their final class project with energy and determination. Their challenge was to use the knowledge they had gained throughout this innovative two-year instructional program, apply it to an actual park project submitted by NRPA member agencies and create a conceptual design for a fully sustainable park.

Compelled by more than just the pressures of shrinking budgets and demands for greater efficiency in park operations, park and recreation agencies are realizing that all their parks and facilities must become more sustainable simply as a matter of principle. Sustainably designed parks demonstrate conservation leadership, reduce tax burdens to citizens and improve quality of life for all.

Thus the Park Design Challenge was more than an intellectual and academic exercise for Green School students--it was equally a practical demonstration of how to put sustainable design principles into practice. And the students willingly embraced this challenge--they threw themselves into the exercise, and at the end of the week, they proved that principles of sustainability and conservation can be infused into any park design, no matter what the type of park or the location. The design teams produced five exceptional conceptual design plans for actual parks of NRPA member agencies, designs that are being shared with each of the submitting agencies.

The real-life park projects for the design challenge were solicited through a Request for Proposals (RFP) in summer 2012, according to a set of criteria for parks that were currently planned or which were slated for design in the near future. Eleven eligible projects were submitted by NRPA agencies and five were selected. Each agency provided extensive background information on their proposed parks, such as environmental assessments, geo-technical surveys and summaries of citizen engagement forums.

The randomly chosen design teams were instructed to prepare their design plans for their park as if they were to be presented to their governing board, mayor or county council for approval. Projects were judged by a panel of faculty advisors on overall quality and comprehensiveness of design, application of Green School knowledge, incorporation of key principles and quality of oral presentations. Every member of each design team was required to have a specific role that was to be identified during the class presentation.

Alpine Adventure Park, Rockford, Illinois

The design team of Catherine Schrein, Linda Rosine, Mike Moore, Darryl Oden, Ann O'Toole and Jenny Doty had tongues planted firmly in cheeks when they introduced themselves as "Green School Designs, a nationally noted landscape architecture and design firm." In a multimedia presentation, they proposed converting an old golf course at the park into the "Alpine Adventure Park," an all-season recreational park that would offer snow skiing by utilizing the existing pond for snow-making in the winter and switching to grass-skiing in the summer. The team made a number of recommendations to make this park sustainable --porous paving in parking lots, rain gardens to capture stormwater runoff and creation of a nature play area utilizing natural materials gathered from the park. They even suggested a branding campaign: "This Park is an Adventure --Have a Blast." The faculty advisors gave the project high marks, but suggested that their design plan would need to go back to the community for additional input since some of their ideas departed from the original community desires for more picnicking and fishing.

Channahon Community Park, Channahon, Illinois

The Community Park in Channahon, Illinois, involved an element unlike any other of the proposals--a 55-acre wetland mitigation bank built by a private developer that was to be taken over by the agency and incorporated into a larger 121-acre park. …

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