Webber Park is getting a $4 million dollar makeover and the timing couldn’t be better. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) decided that it was too expensive to operate the current swimming facility, leaving the community “high and dry” for the 2011 summer. Add to that, the fact that the tornado destroyed 110 trees in Webber Park on May 22, that there are no lights on the soccer field, that the picnic tables are well used, but in bad shape, that the street side walkways are in disrepair, and it becomes evident that a renovation is needed and welcomed.
With the selection of Landform as the design team, the MPRB made a commitment to sensibility and to the natural environment of Webber Park. The Landform webpage states, “We strive to responsibly achieve harmony with the earth’s land and resources in projects of all scales. Our SensiblyGreen® initiative is the result of a focus of energy and excitement centered in the values of resource management and environmentally sensitive design within the context of economic viability.”
Landform used three “tools” to involve the community in the planning process. The first was a survey available on-line and in print on September 1, and was due by September 23. The second tool was the use of focus groups. Landform asked each group the same six questions which were aligned with the survey questions. The focus groups included neighborhood organizations, block clubs, partnering agencies, people who use the park for programming and Patrick Henry students. The third tool included three days of community meetings, which were structured to gather information, share and discuss ideas with community members, and begin the process of developing design concepts.
The focus groups were facilitated by Bob Schunicht and Kendra Lindahl of Landform. Schunicht, professional engineer and vice president of Landform, said they are implementing a long-term visioning process that will end with a new master plan in December. As they develop the master plan they are considering the benefits of the plan for the next 20 years. He informed the participants that major changes to the topography of the park occurred when the pond and creek were realigned in 1950. Prior to that time the creek ran through the pond. Currently the pond is almost five feet above the creek. Another change occurred when the falls were put in, to accommodate Interstate 94. Schunicht said that approximately two-thirds of the funds will be needed for the aquatic portion of the plan. He presented a number of design possibilities, ranging from a sand bottom swimming pond to a traditional swimming pool. He also discussed different filtration systems, ranging from a chemically free method that utilizes natural filtration systems, to conventional chlorine methods.
Kendra Lindahl, Principal of Landform, facilitated the question portion of the focus groups. She asked people to tell about positive experiences they’ve had at Webber Park, what facilities or features they use the most, how they envision the park in 10 to 20 years, what kind of swimming facility they want in the park, what kinds of natural features they would like in the park, and in what ways Webber Park can best serve the community. Many aspects of the park were lifted up, including the swimming pool, the library, use of the trails for walking and biking, skating on the pond, and playing on the refurbished tennis courts, basketball court and playground. Nancy Fiske, a lifelong Camden resident, talked about the importance of the swimming pool in her life. She talked about her sister, a swimming instructor and documentary filmmaker in Australia, and noted the importance of childhood experiences at Webber Pool in her sister’s career choice. Joyce Lehman, parent liaison at Loring School, talked about Webber as a destination park, with enjoyable community events such as Frosty Fun and the summer movies in the park. She also mentioned the importance of the Rec Plus program for students with working parents. Bill Moore of the Camden Lions, mentioned the importance of the park building as a community gathering place and hoped we could continue to attract events to the park, such as the Northside Arts Collective’s Spring Fling.
Lindahl acknowledged that the allotted $4 million dollars will not provide for park improvements for the next 20 years, but she encouraged the focus groups to think in those terms so that the planners can consider future improvements in the design process. Many people said they would like Shingle Creek to be a more prominent feature again, with the possibility of it being developed for recreational use. Buzzy Bohn, librarian at Loring School, said she would like to see a fantastic destination library that would be open more hours and more days. Most people expressed a desire to have an aquatic facility that has an open swimming area with diving boards, laps lanes, etc., which is free or affordable for families and children. Starla Krause hoped that picnic shelters, similar to those at the Mississippi Regional Park, would be included in the design. Dale Hulme expressed a desire for a destination skating and hockey rink, and Rep. Joe Mullery stated the importance of facilities and programs for youth.
Jennifer Ringold, manager of Community Engagement and Citywide Planning for the MPRB, facilitated a small group of Patrick Henry students, who represented the Leo’s, National Honor Society, Asian Club and Drama Clubs. Students mentioned that the tennis courts, library, pool, winter skating and athletic fields were important features that they use. They talked about the possibility of creating learning laboratories in the new design, as well as improving the lighting and possibly creating some quiet garden spaces.
On September 29, Landform and the MPRB kicked off the three day design charrette in the Webber Park Multi-purpose room, with a full house of community participants. Bruce Chamberlain, MPRB Assistant Superintendent Planning Services, welcomed the participants and acknowledged that the Camden community had missed the pool this past summer. The history of the park and the results of the survey were presented by Bob Schunicht.
For info/drawings about the Webber Park planning process visit http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp? PageID=1286 or call Jennifer Ringold, Manager of Public Engagement and Citywide Planning, at 612-230-6464. You can also sign up for project updates at http://www.minneapolisparks.org/webberplanning.