Parks: Dreams Come True
Westminster Center Park in Westminster, Colo.
By Dawn Klingensmith
"Of all the delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed."
—J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan
Nicknamed "Peter Pan Park" by locals, Westminster Center Park in Westminster, Colo., neither looks nor feels crammed, but there are certainly no "tedious distances" between adventures. The 9.5-acre site includes a plaza, a walking trail, a playground, an amphitheater, water features and a grassy expanse for lolling or playing.
For years before the park's dedication in May 2010, the site was empty save for weeds. "There were no trees. It was not very appealing," said Kathy Piper, the landscape architect for the city of Westminster who drew up basic plans for the park, which a hired firm later refined.
Bound by four streets, the site could not hook into existing trails or otherwise be expanded. It was self-contained, and therefore incapable of becoming displeasingly "sprawly." And this did not strike designers as limiting: With no trees or natural features, the site was an empty canvas for a built environment.
"We could make it what we wanted it to be," Piper said.
Westminster, a northwest suburb of Denver, is a sister city to Westminster, England, which explains the park's English feel and Peter Pan theme. The Peter Pan stories were set in the London area.
But unlike Neverland, which is far removed from the grown-up world in spirit if not in distance, Westminster Center Park occupies a city block in the downtown area, right across from City Hall.
The location invests the site with "civic importance," said landscape architect Dean Pearson of The Architerra Group, the Littleton, Colo.-based firm that refined the city's conceptual designs. "You don't see a space like that become available that often."
In fact, the space had been available for a long time. "There's a lot of apartment living around it, and residents had all been told it was intended to be a park," Piper said, but lack of funding precluded development. A municipal bond and grants made it possible to "resurrect" the project, with input from residents, she added.
Initial plans included a grassy area, or "unprogrammed space," to toss a ball or fly a kite, along with a playground, amphitheater and water features laid out in quadrants.
"Basically, the city put together a list of uses, and public meetings reinforced and validated those uses," Pearson said.
His firm was charged with coming up with a theme. Researching the site's history, designers learned it had once been an orchard; however, the orchard theme had already been taken. The firm then began to explore the possibility of playing off its sister city's history, landmarks and literary legacy. Home of Big Ben, the original Westminster is a separate borough located in the heart of greater London. The connection presented the firm with "a lot of different design possibilities," Pearson said.
One of the water features in the park is designed to evoke the River Thames, which flows through London. A ribbon of blue meanders through the concrete and contains several pop jet fountains. The "river" is made of Lithocrete, a paving system that combines the structural properties of reinforced concrete with the aesthetic qualities of aggregate materials, such as granite, glass, limestone or shells. In Westminster Center Park, polished blue glass was used.
Another water feature consists of lion heads spitting water into a shallow pool. Piper said the water features, which operate from mid-May to mid-October, are the park's biggest draw. Her advice to other municipal park planners: "Go with water. Especially for cities, pools are expensive from an operating standpoint and hard to maintain," and water features are an inexpensive yet satisfactory alternative.
The playground is modeled on Neverland, complete with a pirate's cove and ship-themed play structure. There's also a Neverwood Forest with hollow "logs" for kids to climb through and concrete-sculpted boulders and outcroppings with built-in slides. Nearby is a London Bridge play structure.
In the center of the plaza is an obelisk illuminated at night with energy-efficient LED lights. "We wanted a vertical element to echo the clock tower across the street at City Hall," which is loosely based on Big Ben, Pearson said.
Around the obelisk is a streetscape consisting of a miniaturized grid of Westminster streets, along with an interpretation of the Darling house from Peter Pan.
Colorado Hardscapes, Denver, provided the sculpted-concrete climbing structures, water features and Lithocrete pathway. Landscape Structures, headquartered in Delano, Minn., provided the London Bridge- and ship-themed playground equipment. DuMor Inc., headquartered in Mifflintown, Pa., provided site furnishings. Hubbell Inc., based in Shelton, Conn., provided pedestrian lighting throughout the park. Chevo Studios, Denver, created the obelisk out of sandstone and also designed the lighting atop the performance shelter.
LOA Architecture, Denver, designed the picnic and performance shelters, along with the restroom facility. Architerra Group provided the master plan and construction documents. Arrow-J Landscape & Design Inc., Denver, was the contractor.
Piper and the city of Westminster provided project management. The project took two years to complete, at a cost of $3 million, and was indirectly aided and improved by the poor economy. Eager for work, contractors came through with low bids, making upgrades possible.
That's a happy ending for a site that stood empty for years due to lack of funds. To quote a line from Peter Pan, "Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough."
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