Sunday, January 29, 2017

Eugene Civic Park

Many people in Eugene know there are plans to redevelop the historic Civic Stadium property in the heart of Eugene. Indeed, the Eugene Civic Alliance (ECA), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, purchased the Civic site in 2015 (before the terrible fire in June of that year consumed the landmark wooden grandstand) with the goal of building and operating a communal sports and entertainment venue. ECA proposes to name the facility Eugene Civic Park. Now that ECA has widely circulated renderings of the proposed development, I feel free to say more about its design and my involvement with the project. 

Leading ECA is a large group of prominent citizens well-known for their service to the Eugene-Springfield community. They all share the same conviction, that our population isn’t as physically active as it needs to be, and that there is shortage of adequate places for children and adults to participate in recreational sports. Youngsters need places where they can learn key movement skills and develop “physical literacy” (the ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments, benefitting the healthy development of the whole person). Adults require accessible and attractive facilities where they will sustain healthy levels of activities for a lifetime. ECA is acutely aware how much the dearth of decent gyms and playing fields—in addition to the trend toward reduced physical education time in our schools—is contributing to troubling increases in obesity, diabetes, and an assortment of other preventable conditions. In the words of Kidsports executive director Bev Smith, developing Civic Park “is fundamental to our ability to raise healthy kids and have them grow into active adults . . . without enough functional, available space to play, most kids miss out on what is truly the most cost-effective and practical form of health care. We can’t fail them.” 

Kidsports is one of the key partners in the Civic Park project and will serve as an anchor tenant at Civic Park. Kidsports provides youth team sports experiences for all children, giving all a chance to grow socially by learning teamwork, sportsmanship, and fair play. The organization offers football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, lacrosse, softball, and baseball programs—because growth in multiple sports is vital to kids becoming well-rounded athletes. 

Another year-round anchor tenant will be Lane United FC, a member of the Premier Development League (PDL) of the United Soccer League. Aside from its own games and practices, the team runs youth soccer camps and a recreational 30+ soccer league. 

A wide variety of other local club and recreational sports organizations have expressed interest in what Civic Park will offer. These include City of Eugene recreational leagues in soccer and ultimate Frisbee, youth soccer clubs, local rugby clubs, the Azul semi-pro women’s soccer team, and Northwest Christian University’s men’s and women’s soccer teams. 

To summarize, ECA’s goals for Civic Park are to: 
  1. Improve the health and fitness of children in our community, ensuring equitable access for all 
  2. Build indoor courts and a playing field to fix a shortage of safe and decent places for sports and exercise 
  3. Create a community place that will host tournaments, special events, and minor league soccer 
  4. Ensure that Civic Park operations are financially and environmentally sustainable 
  5. Strengthen the community’s sense of civic solidarity and pride 
ECA selected the team of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc (RSA) and Skylab Architecture of Portland to lead its design effort early in 2016. To date, our synergistic collaboration is proving to be a great success. 

As with many of our larger projects, RSA is performing the role of executive architect/architect-of-record for Civic Park. In this capacity, we provide project oversight, technical expertise, and a leadership role in ensuring an integrated project process. We also bring to the table our knowledge of local conditions, established relationships with authorities having jurisdiction and familiarity with their processes, and a rapport with our construction team partners. RSA has contributed significantly during the Conceptual Design, Schematic Design, and Design Development phases of the project, and will increasingly assume a greater share of the project burden as we move forward with Construction Documents. My specific role is to be the design team’s project manager. 

Skylab is well-known in the Portland market for its cutting-edge aesthetic. The firm, as its website touts, is “about optimism and exploration; futurism with a touch of irony.” Its portfolio includes such striking projects as Yard, the Columbia Building Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Owl Creek Residence, and the massive Nike World Headquarters Expansion. Despite Skylab’s undeniable design acumen, it was firm associate Jamin AAsum’s pro-bono connection with the Civic Park project prior to ECA’s purchase of the site that favored Skylab’s involvement with the project. 

Jamin’s long history with Eugene—he attended the University of Oregon and was a member of the track & field team as a middle-distance runner, and he owns property today near the campus—means he thoroughly understands our community and its culture; indeed, while Jamin now lives and works in Portland for Skylab, he considers Eugene a home away from home. Along with Matt Scheibe, principal of Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning, Jamin helped ECA develop its initial list of facility requirements and a visionary plan for ECA prior to its purchase of the Civic site. Jamin’s relationship with many of the key ECA leaders and his thorough awareness of the organization’s goals provided our team with a running start on the project. 

Aerial view from the northeast. The Kidsports field house is in the foreground and the stadium is beyond.

Our design for Civic Park is at once simple and complex. We looked at site connections and forces: site contours, views to the hills, location along transit corridors. A 2,500-seat stadium with a multipurpose, all-season synthetic turf field, plus a field house accommodating four indoor basketball courts (and two outdoor courts), administrative offices, and storage space for Kidsports, are the principal project components. Together, they will provide ECA with an economical sports complex that fulfills all five of the organization’s stated goals. 

The simple part is how logically we ultimately arranged the program elements about the site. The topography, which drops off quickly from its edge along Willamette Street and then more gradually toward its boundary at Amazon Parkway, prompted us to locate the stadium’s elevated concourse and grandstand on the west side, while the playing field occupied the center of the property. This limited our options for siting the field house. Eventually we accepted the inevitability of placing the field house on the eastern border of the site, thus forming a contained space. Experientially it will be a bowl or a “nest” with a clear sense of place rather than one with ill-defined boundaries. Berms at the north and south corners of the stadium will strengthen the sense of containment. The design suggests togetherness, an intimate environment, and a shared experience. At the same time, it will invite views from passersby on Willamette Street across the stadium’s concourse and onto the field. It maximizes what makes the site unique, integrating the architecture with the topography.

Site Plan (click to enlarge)

The design accommodates the possibility of doubling the stadium seating capacity sometime in the future. 

The complex part is ensuring our design for Civic Park meets everyone’s high hopes for the project. These include expectations that the memory of Civic Stadium will not be allowed to simply fade away. We have proposed several subtle moves to ensure its history and significance to many generations are an essential part of the new Civic Park. Budget permitting, these include such gestures as repurposing the old stadium’s salvaged light poles, using board-formed concrete at some of the exposed retaining walls to recall Civic Stadium’s wood siding, incorporating interpretive displays documenting the site’s history, and ghosting the baseplates and pitcher’s mound on the stadium turf with a faintly contrasting turf color. ECA also salvaged the old stadium scoreboard and pieces of structural steel twisted by the intense heat of the destructive fire; how we incorporate these items into the project remains to be determined. Civic Stadium may be gone but we will not let it become forgotten. 

The project is additionally complicated by ECA’s obligation (defined by the purchase agreement for the property) to incorporate a “pocket park” to be maintained by the City of Eugene, as well as a multimodal transportation (bicycles, pedestrians) path traversing the site in the east-west direction to ensure Civic Park is well connected to existing circulation routes in the surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, the city’s off-street parking requirements have demanded a creative response in the form of a project-specific Transportation Demand Management plan (to address the site’s inability to accommodate the full number of vehicle parking spaces required by the Eugene Code). The plan will include a shared parking arrangement with South Eugene High School. 

Kidsports field house Level 1 plan (click to enlarge)

Our proposed design attempts to evoke movement and dynamism. Gestures including syncopated window patterns, angled walls, sloping berms, and shifts in the rib spacing of the metal siding on the field house will all contribute to this illusion. Generous circulation and public gathering spaces will also encourage movement through the site. Regardless, thriftiness is the order of the day: the field house will be an inexpensive pre-engineered metal building, and the stadium grandstand will be a lightweight aluminum and steel bleacher system. A significant portion of the construction budget will be consumed by site improvements, including mitigation of undesirable soil conditions, relocation of buried utilities, site demolition, and new retaining walls. 

Speaking of the budget, the estimated direct construction cost is $26.7 million, which is modest given the extensive scope of the project. As of the completion of the Design Development phase, our design remains right on target. ECA recently directed us to proceed with the preparation of construction documents. If the organization’s fundraising efforts are successful, everyone’s hope is to see groundbreaking occur late this coming summer. If you can, do not hesitate to contribute to ECA’s campaign. Doing so will help keep the project on track. 

Jeff Kovel (left) and Jamin AAsum (seated) of Skylab Architecture, and Matt Scheibe of Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning during a Civic Park design charrette at Skylab's office in Portland.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other members of the large and talented project team working hard to make Civic Park a reality. These include Chambers Construction, the venerable Eugene builder performing the role of Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC). The team also includes Carole Knapel of Knapel + Associates, who is serving as ECA’s project management consultant. As with any undertaking of this size, the entire roster of project participants is long and broad in its scope: 
  • Executive Architect:  Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc
  • Design Architect:  Skylab Architecture
  • Landscape Architect:  Cameron McCarthy Landscape Architecture & Planning
  • Civil Engineer:  KPFF Consulting Engineers
  • Structural Engineer:  KPFF Consulting Engineers
  • Sports Facilities Design Consultant:  SportsPLAN Studio 
  • Planning Consultant: TBG Architects & Planners
  • Transportation Engineer:  Clemow & Associates 
  • Construction Manager/General Contractor:  Chambers Construction
  • Plumbing Design-Build Contractor:  Brothers Plumbing, Inc. 
  • HVAC Design-Build Contractor:  Comfort Flow Heating & Air Conditioning
  • Electrical Design-Build Contractor:  New Way Electric, Inc. 
  • Owner’s Project Manager:  Knapel + Associates 
Notably, the people of Eugene came together and built Civic Stadium during the Great Depression. There is no reason today why our community cannot rise again and extend its legacy by building Civic Park. Rising from the ashes, the new facility will create lifelong memories for everyone, particularly for kids who may never have known Civic Stadium. I’m truly honored to be involved with a project of such community significance.

1 comment:

mrs random said...

Thanks, Randy! It's nice to get a preview and some insight about the whys of the design.