Veterans Park to be redesigned
Pitkin County’s nearly $25 million plan to gut, renovate and add on to its headquarters building on Main Street will have inevitable impacts on Veterans Park next door.
The large, old, dead or dying cottonwood trees between the building and the park, for example, will be cut down, while access to the construction site from Main Street through part of the park is inevitable during the two-year project, said David Detwiler, a project manager.
With reconstruction of the park built into the construction budget of the new building, officials began thinking about whether the park could be improved, Detwiler told Pitkin County commissioners earlier this month.
“(We wanted to know) is there something more creative than what we have,” he said.
So they began meeting with local veterans about what they’d like to see happen with the space, and hired local landscape architect Nick Soho to translate those sentiments into a cohesive plan, Detwiler said. After seven meetings, they presented their preliminary plan for a new Veterans Park to commissioners Sept. 13.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said.
Commissioner Rachel Richards seconded that thought.
“I really appreciate this work and think it’s stellar,” she said.
The new plan organizes Veteran’s Park, a small space between the county building at 530 E. Main St. and the historic Pitkin County Courthouse next door, into more of a plaza. It would be in the shape of a circle with the Veterans Memorial in the middle and a series of concrete benches lining the circle and facing the memorial, according to the plans.
In addition, the memorial plaza area would be about 18-inches below grade, with a ramp leading down from Main Street into its center. The memorial “becomes more important” when you set it below grade, Soho told commissioners.
Plans call for a wall between 36 and 42 inches high behind the concrete benches that creates a circular barrier around the memorial, with entrances into the memorial center from the new building and Main Street. The outer circle would feature an area near the Main Street entrance for wheelchairs and people to stand during ceremonies, with another small seating area behind the memorial to the north, according to the plans.
The portion of the circle facing the county building would be incorporated into the new building’s design in a couple of ways, Soho said.
First, a covered walkway that leads to the building entrance will act almost like a covered porch for the east entrance to Veterans Park and can be used to shelter people during ceremonies when weather is bad, according to the plans and Soho. Also, perforated, see-through screens matching those on the new building are proposed for the top of the low wall in that area to provide more privacy for the memorial area, Soho said. Finally, Soho included another concrete bench on the east side of the memorial meant to block people from cutting through the park to get to the Courthouse.
Proposed landscaping drew the most comments from commissioners.
Clapper said it was “of critical importance” to her to include the roses that now line the wrought-iron fence along Main Street in front of the Courthouse and Veterans Park to remain.
“To me, it’s what makes Veteran’s Park so special,” she said.
Soho pointed out that six planters to be installed at the Main Street entrance to the park are reserved for roses. In addition, a portion of the roses and wrought-iron fence from the Courthouse would continue into Veterans Park until just before the entrance, according to plans.
Commissioner Michael Owsley said he wasn’t excited about the concrete benches.
“It’s tough for people to sit on concrete benches,” he said.
Owsley also didn’t like the proposed aspen trees Soho included with the park plans.
“Having lots of trees there … provides shade, and what we need is light there,” he said.
Two large evergreen trees on the west side of the park provide a good buffer between the park and the Courthouse and will remain, Soho said.
One of the main directives in designing the new park was that the memorial was not to be touched because it contains “sacred remembrances,” Soho said.
“That concrete is sacred,” he said. “It will not be touched by us.”
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dick Merritt, who attended the meeting earlier this month with colleague and U.S. Navy veteran Dan Glidden, said there would have been hell to pay if that happened.
“If the memorial was moved, there would have been protests,” Merritt said.
While Merritt said the plans have been vetted by many veterans, Richards suggested taking them to the public and the broader veteran community for suggestions. She pointed out that current plans are only preliminary and that much time remains to tweak Veteran’ Park plans because it won’t be rebuilt until the new building is done in two years.
“A simple check-in is a good step,” Richards said.
Pitkin County plans to spend about $24.6 million renovating the 17,000-square-foot existing county building, and adding on a 24,000-square-foot addition to the back. The project, scheduled to be finished around summer 2018, also will include an 8,000 square foot underground parking garage.
The proposed redesign of the park would add between $200,000 and $300,000 to the county building project, according to a memo from Detwiler to commissioners.
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