Park Life: The Seen and Unseen Advances of Public Parks

Large curving pipes rising and falling in large sweeps across a field sounds more like a piece of abstract art parents would get red-faced about having to ask their kids to stop climbing up than it does a main play structure at a public park. However, that’s exactly what developer DMB Associates wants you to think.

The future of public parks lies in the appropriately dubbed orange monster — a cluster of giant, parallel pipes curving up and back into the grounds of Eastmark’s 106-acre park in Mesa.

The point is to attract adults to the park, says Dea McDonald, DMB’s Senior Vice President and Eastmark’s General Manager. Kids will always find a way to play on something, he says, but the adults have to want to be there too. A compelling environment is one way to ensure that happens.

The regional park finished its first phase of development in May 2013 will begin its second phase of construction in August 2014.

Public parks may be a setting of simpler times for many people, but their complexity is something Haydon Building Corp’s Fritz Behrhorst says is underestimated.

“It looks like grass and trees, but there’s a lot that goes into those,” says Haydon’s vice president of pre-construction. “They’re expensive to build.”

Public projects, such as libraries, were put on hold during the recession, but Behrhorst says cities were able to get more park for their pennies when construction prices dropped between 2008 and 2010.

Now that construction prices are on the rise, Behrhorst says he is an increase in repurposing of properties in dense environments.

Mesa passed a bond program in 2012 that proposed 18 park projects at the total cost of $70M, with $2.25M operational costs.

In Mesa, the now-closed Mesa Junior High and Powell/Mesa Education Center are being bought by the city and converted into parks — a $8.7M expense funded by a bond program passed in 2012. This is just $2M shy of the budgeted amount for building three new park systems.

The aforementioned Eastmark park is Mesa’s first Communities-Facilities District, which is a system that taxes Eastmark residents over a span of 30 years to pay for the infrastructure and is then reimbursed by the city as development is finished. The city will also manage and operate the park.

Outside of construction costs, one of the biggest concerns for park developers and the cities that maintain the properties is water. Behrhorst and Haydon have engaged in significant research in water usage and technology, which is applied to their park development.

Haydon just completed the 90-acre Pioneer Park in Peoria, which has what Behrhorst called a sophisticated irrigation system. The system makes use of water-monitoring technology that can save the city up to 40 percent in maintenance costs. Sprinkler heads in the park’s fields can detect how much water is needed in a certain area of the field and deliver just that amount from a single head. The use of effluent water to water the park’s fields or fill a lake is being explored by Haydon and DMB Associates alike.

Although Eastmark is not yet using reclaimed water, McDonald says Eastmark has an agreement with the City of Mesa that when it completes a water line with the CAP canal, the park will be irrigated by raw water. It’s deemed to be effluent and is exchange it with Gila community.

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About Amanda Ventura

Amanda Ventura is an editor, award-winning writer and pop culture enthusiast. When she's not up against deadlines, she is exploring Arizona, trying recipes that require every dish in her kitchen be used, collecting 5K swag bags and race numbers and volunteering at a local animal shelter. Her bookshelf is full of autobiographies and her desk is covered in Sticky Notes. She dislikes the Oxford comma and still cannot believe she gets to meet and write about interesting people for a living.