The Midwest is no stranger to severe weather such as windstorms, tornadoes, and flooding. Unfortunately, these events are unavoidable and becoming more frequent, requiring design professionals to minimize the effects these catastrophes can have on the built environment.
Our experts’ wrap-up a three part series on climate change, sharing their experience in promoting resilient design measures as a response to the vulnerabilities created by unpredictable weather patterns. Listen in as they respond to each of these questions:
- How is localized flooding affecting park and recreation design projects?
- What tactics are used to combine a space into both a recreational and stormwater management area?
- What mitigate techniques are successful for avoiding construction delays due to weather?
Tim West (0:20):
We all have a concern regarding the frequency and intensity of large rain events that seem to be occurring more and more often. We seem to get more and more requests for design assistance and controlling stormwater runoff from a lot of our clients. There are also quite a few changing regulations and increasing flood protection ordinances taking effect across a number of areas throughout the Midwest.
We want to talk a little bit about what we’re doing here at Snyder and Associates to address these stormwater challenges, specifically for our park and recreation clients. A lot of park spaces located in low lying areas and close to creek and stream corridors. What are some of the challenges you’re encountering in your park and recreation design projects, when you’re dealing with localized flooding from these waterways?
Flood Hazard Mitigation
Clay Schneckloth (1:06):
One thing I want to talk about is flood hazard mitigation. The idea is that we want to make sure we reduce the severity of flood damage to our parks and waterways. Reducing this risk to structures and experiencing the flood damage is an effect that it’s always, “Oh no, what do we do now?” kind of thing. So we want to try and get ahead of that and get some design pulled together, before we experienced some of these effects.
The flood zone shifts are impacting the communities that we live in, we’ve seen that over the past decade. We’re seeing some of these events that are happening more frequent than as expected. We’re getting these questions saying, “Hey, we’re experiencing water in this area, where we’ve never seen it before?” When we get these heavy rains, it’s important to understand what we’re going to do with the water, how we’re going to be able to handle it, get the infiltration needed, and still mitigate and reduce the risk and flood damage in these areas.
Diane Goering (2:03):
Like you said, it’s impacting people’s homes unexpectedly and more frequently. We dealt with that with the project, Lower Fourmile Creek, where it was impacting a lot of homes in the Des Moines and Pleasant Hill area. A lot of those properties were flooded out, bought up with FEMA funding by those communities and the county.
There’s this new dynamic of, as these communities buy up that property that’s prone to flooding and is producing safety concerns, what do we do with that property? How is it managed? Who’s managing it? Who owns it? Will there be public access or park amenities added to that now public property as part of that flood mitigation process. We can provide communities with guidance and helping with that sensitive subject as they buy a property, provide parameters for what properties get bought out and reasons for that, and then as well as help produce a management plan and put that in place and even a master plan.
With that project, we prepared a master plan that showed additional trail connections and different recreation resources that could be added. Throughout that now, a future greenway system as well as conservation areas that could help provide wetland areas to help cleanse the water that’s entering Fourmile Creek and eventually goes into the Des Moines River. These can be all positive things, but there is a sensitivity to it.
Designing for Recreational Areas with Stormwater Control
Andy Meessmann (3:23):
There’s definitely a sensitivity in terms of how we’re designing these localized flooding areas. Something that I face pretty much in every project and especially at the master planning level is balancing the recreational opportunities that people really desire and sometimes it conflicts with the natural setting that’s supposed to happen there. Or the flood zone and preserving space for that. Really striking a balance between people wanting to get access to a river for instance, but there’s definitely some constraints in terms of the area being prone to flooding. Where do we find that balance? It’s always a challenge as a designer to really satisfy everyone’s desires for this public open space that we work on.
Tim West (4:07):
So Andy and the team, what are some strategies for taking a park and designing to function as both a recreational area and a stormwater management area?
Clay Schneckloth (4:18):
We definitely get that opportunity, when we start looking at these areas. We’re trying to reduce the flood damage. When we’re doing that, we’re trying to change and help with the infiltration in these watersheds. How can we provide some storage of that water in our landscape? By incorporating wetlands, stormwater basins, terraces, channel bank stabilization, buffer strips to help keep and protect our features that we’re trying to incorporate into these public areas.
Comprehensive Planning with Municipalities
Andy Meessmann (4:49):
It’s important as landscape architects, what we do a lot at Snyder and Associates, is working closely with the municipal engineers, city staff, and planners to really plan out long-term, in terms of what they want to do with their recreational area and how to manage stormwater within it. It’s a very challenging part of the profession.
We’re working closely right now with the Village of Cottage Grove on a Miracle League Field. Working with the municipal engineers on where the water’s going, updating waterfall intensities based on new code, and making sure that works in the long range plan of the park. It’s really all hands-in type of design when it comes to trying to design for a larger park system to cater to both recreational desires as well as just the passive stormwater management aspects.
Tim West (5:39):
Another project that we kind of took that same strategy was down in Knoxville, Iowa, at Young’s Park. We were dealing with a park that had a whole bunch of small flat areas that didn’t drain well, almost a bunch of little, mini-basins. One strategy that we took was to increase one low area, collect all the stormwater in one low area and utilize some of that cut and shaping to create a larger platform, which eventually would be the home to a small skate park and large rope climber element. That allowed us to concentrate, what was stormwater pockets all over the park, into one larger stormwater basin area that could be set aside and utilized for stormwater management. Then we could free up these other areas a little bit higher and drier so that they could operate for different park programming uses.
Diane Goering (6:32):
We also work with clients to look at a more comprehensive planning approach, so looking at the whole park system in itself and studying park priorities, so to speak, or park types. Parks might be set aside more for stormwater management and conservation now. We’re seeing more of that integrated even in some of our more urban communities, where some are set aside for more recreation amenities. Looking at the community as a whole and seeing where the value is with those spaces and what parks sites or areas maybe more suitable for addressing the flooding or stormwater within the community.
A lot of communities have ordinances in place where a certain percentage has to be set aside when a development goes in for park space, but combined with the need for more detention basins and things like that to address stormwater, we were seeing an increase in park spaces that were set aside that were unusable for a lot of recreational amenities. That impacted a lot of changes to community ordinances that we’re seeing and helping advise to make sure enough park space is left aside for those neighborhood park amenities. It’s not too steep or it’s not primarily a detention basin.
Characteristics Recommended for Recreational and Stormwater Management Areas
Tim West (7:43):
Yeah, when we get approached about those park site dedications, there’s kind of some minimum characteristics that we like to promote for a general park. Particularly if it’s in a neighborhood and it’s some sort of a remnant property. We like to see some amount of street frontage to allow for some parking or maintenance vehicle access. It also provides a little bit more of an inviting park area and allows the park to be identified a little more clearly than feeling like it’s in the back behind some people’s properties.
We also look for two to three acres of area that is relatively flat. It depends on the size of the property that’s being conveyed, but a lot of times they’ll consist of like a stormwater basin or a creek area and you get a lot of site slope or something that’s fairly unusable. Kind of the last area that we really recommend when considering new park spaces is having a clear public access way or multiple access ways, if you can. It can be off the right-of-way, but it also needs to feel like its part of the public. By providing multiple access points, you can promote park use and the equity of park use. It also provides a more safe connection to any given park, particularly when it’s in a neighborhood, so it doesn’t always feel like you’re in somebody’s backyard. By having multiple access points, a broader exposure to the public street or the right-of-way, all those elements provide a better feel for the park and help to provide a better park space that the city’s going to be more interested in acquiring.
Project Scheduling and Reducing Delays
Tim West (9:29):
It’s getting harder and harder to keep construction projects on schedule due to wet times of the year, not having enough construction days when we have these connected rain events. Can you guys give some explanation or experiences on how you’ve been able to mitigate these schedule impacts and how you like to approach project scheduling in your park projects?
Clay Schneckloth (9:49):
Communication with the client, parks board, city, or whoever it needs to be, we want to have that communication upfront. Whether it’s a new park or just a piece of a park, everyone’s excited with getting this new space created and open to the public as fast as they can. So whenever, it’s the pressure of like, “Oh, we need to get this park open as soon as we can.” You know what happens, weather steps in and causes a delay, and that’s not a fun topic to try and step in front of a parks board, in front of your shareholder committee, and say, “Guess what? We’re delayed three weeks, because it rained and we didn’t account for it.” We want to have those conversations up front and have weather days built into the completion of this project. We want to have that conversation with the owner and the shareholder group first. We want to be upfront with our clients. They need to know that it’s expected and accounted for, weather is not going to be perfect for us for this entire project. We know there’s going to be some weather delays, because of what we’re experiencing and have experienced in the past years.
One option that we’ve started to talk about is the completion date. We need to allow for these additional days due to weather. But is there a specific grand opening that needs to be met for this piece of the park or the new park? If there is, then we need to maybe start this project a little bit earlier, if we can, to make sure we’re meeting that specific grand opening date. Is it possible to move that completion date, back a little bit, to give the contractor a little bit more leeway, to be able to make this project happen in a specified time?
Tim West (11:22):
One thing that we’ve seen over and over again is a lack of working days in the spring. I think we’ve almost eliminated the opportunity to get a lot of work done in the spring, because we’ve been a little scared about how wet the weather is and how few dry days we have. It also makes it pretty difficult to protect some of the work when they open up the site to earthwork and then it sits there muddy and has to be drained. Spring seems to be one of the most critical parts of the project and by extending those construction dates out into the fall or even into the following year. I think you’re right Clay, we need to make sure we keep that in mind when we set those early schedules.
Diane Goering (12:07):
We’re seeing better bid prices when you build that into the contract, because the contractors are looking for that. They know those are going to be potential issues.
Andy Meessmann (12:16):
Something that I’ve learned over many years of designing and administering construction when it’s going on, is just to spec local and spec simple. That plays into well of other conversations we’ve had on these podcasts about sustainability and climate change. The more local you can get for specing products obviously there’s less transit costs and smaller ecological footprint there. You’re supporting local businesses and really specing simple, specifying simple designs, easier designs to install obviously makes this whole construction process easier and your designs actually ended up looking better. I’m sure you guys can attest to that, to the years of experience you’ve had on site, and making sure designs are followed through.
Going back to what Clay said about coordination upfront. I think that’s a big element in terms of making the construction process smoother to avoid delays related to weather. Speaking with our clients, if they can order amenities upfront. So they have them staged and ready to go is always an important aspect that can really save on time.