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$86M Playground Sprouts in Missouri’s Forest Park

Sat April 15, 2000 - Midwest Edition
Kathie Sutin

“Road Closed.”

Signs like these have been popping up all over St. Louis, MO’s Forest Park in recent months as the first massive renovation to the park in its history continues.

Roads are being moved or re-aligned, new curbs, gutters and sidewalks are being installed, a new waterway system connecting the ponds and lakes in the park is being constructed and multi-use paths are being added.

The projects are being undertaken to repair some of the aging infrastructure and to make the park more user-friendly, according to Sean J. Devoy, program manager for O’Brien Kreitzberg, the construction manager of the project.

Meadows near some of the lakes will provide inviting picnic areas, “wheels and heels” paths will give bicyclists and walkers places to do their thing and cut-through traffic in the park will be dramatically reduced, he said.

While several projects have been completed, many more remain in this five-phase renovation. Initially plans were for the entire project to be completed by 2004, the centennial anniversary of the World’s Fair, which was held in the park. But a lag in funding may push the completion date further into the decade, Roger Allison, chief engineer for the design division for the board of public service of the city of St. Louis, said.

Current renovation plans are based on the park’s master plan and financed in part by the “Heart of the Park” campaign with the $86-million cost shared by the city and the Forest Park Forever, a non-profit group established to raise money to repair the 1,300-acre park.

The master plan for the park was approved by the Community Development Commission in 1995 and in design shortly thereafter, Allison said. “We’ve had a series of construction projects going on since 1997,” he said. “Our initial goal was to have the whole thing done by 2004. I don’t think the funding will be available that quickly but we’re going to have a majority of the work done by then. We’ve probably bid about $18 million so far and we’re looking to spend hopefully in the next two to three years at least another $18 million.”

A multi-phase approach was taken. “We looked at what made most sense in order to be able to phase all of the construction in the park,” Devoy said. “The [master] plan has been a guide, a document subject to change based on driving forces and opportunities that have come to pass during the course of the project,” he added.

A team headed by David Mason Associates is handling the design.

The first project was construction of Steinberg (Ice Rink) parking lot to allow for removal of the parking lot on the north side of the building, Devoy said. The road was removed and a new connector road will connect Hospital Drive to a new parking lot on the south side of Steinberg Rink, he said.

The changes are being made to provide better access into the park. “Essentially in the master plan, a decision was made that would change the road system and actually deter cut-throughs” Devoy said. The plan will provide access for people who want to come into the park and enjoy it but will reduce access for those who want to use the road system as a cut-through, he said.

“When you look at the traffic patterns and what’s going on in the park, you find there’s a lot of cut-through and it’s not serving the park. If anything, it’s detrimental to the park because the roads are not designed for truck traffic and people cutting though,” said Devoy. “You’re trying to provide amenities and an environment for park users, not for people speeding through the park itself. They restricted and identified the major entrances into the park and utilized them as major focal points. They also looked at taking out streets that are were redundant or creating streets to address the needs.”

Devoy said while the Planetarium building of the Science Center is being renovated, exterior improvements would also be done around the building. Currently there is very little parking at Planetarium and visitors must rely on street parking, but there are no sidewalks in that area, Devoy said. To improve the situation, Faulker Drive will be widened and sidewalks installed on both sides, allowing visitors to walk to Science Center and other points, he said.

Traffic patterns into the park will also change, he said.

A major part of the renovation is the waterway system that will connect the lakes and ponds in the park. “Because we’re building a linear connecting waterway, new bridges have to be constructed or existing roads eliminated entirely,” Devoy said. “The decision was made to remove Jefferson Drive and make a one-way connection because it was cost-prohibitive to build a bridge in that area.”

The first phase of the roadwork included the installation of a drop structure bridge adjacent to Steinberg Rink area.

Soon, rehabilitation work will begin on the rink itself. “It’s past its useful life and some parts of the ice are not getting hard due to problems with the refrigerator tubing so we’ve got to replace the whole thing,” Allison said. “Construction needs to start in June so it’ll be finished for next winter’s ice skating season.”

The second phase of the infrastructure work, grading from Lake Louie to Grand Drive including a new bridge, is currently under construction, Devoy said. The roadway is being rebuilt, new bridges and a board work are being installed and a new connector is being built to Wells Drive, he said.

Over at the Municipal (Muny) Opera, the city’s beloved venue for summertime outdoor musicals, construction of the Deer Lake and Pagoda Circle vehicular bridges and a pedestrian bridge connecting Twin Lots to the Municipal Opera have been completed.

The waterway connection between Pagoda Circle to Deer Lake has been made, the road has been reconfigured and paving is done, Devoy said. Decorative lights have been installed and landscaping will be under way soon.

“So come June when the Muny opens, this area will be ready,” Devoy said. “It’ll be an amazing transformation.”

The next project in the area will be Deer Lake, Devoy said. “The water body has been graded and the connection to the Lagoon System is under way now. They are rehabbing Old Stable Bridge and taking out roadway to put a pathway in its place,” he said.

Grand Drive is being reconstructed currently.

Visitors will have several ways to get around in the park. Concrete sidewalks will follow the road in some areas but in other areas two different types of pathways called “heels and wheels” pathways will be installed. An asphalt “wheels” pathway will accommodate bikers and rollerbladers and a “heels” path of resin mixed with an aggregate will provide a soft-surfaced pathway for walkers and runners.

Stewardship improvements including a circular roadway around the newly opened addition to the History Museum have been completed recently and the adjacent Lagoon-Grand Drive project is under construction currently.

Work has also been completed on Theatre Drive and Government Drive where a curve was taken out, the road realigned and sidewalks installed, Devoy said.

Future work includes improvements to Post-Dispatch Lake and Grand Basin, he said. He noted that some work is contingent on moving some of the golf course holes off Art Hill and the Grand Basin area.

In another section of the park, a roadway was removed and a path system installed to connect Lindell and Skinker. Grand Drive from the History Museum west to Des Peres has been taken out, and visitors will not be able to enter the park there, he added.

Plans for the Lindell-De Baliviere entrance include installation of a median down De Baliviere and the installation of sidewalks, Devoy said.

“The roadway will align with the road way that goes around the History Museum,” he said. “This will indeed become the gateway to the park. People don’t realize that when you enter the park now that De Baliviere is actually part of the park.

“With the planned changes, the landscape and the lighting there will communicate that you’re entering the park,” Devoy said. He noted that decorative lighting at the History Museum, Pagoda Circle and Lagoon-Grand Drive would also be added on Lindell-De Baliviere. “I suspect when we get to Grand Basin and Post-Dispatch Lake, potentially you’ll see it again. We have the waterway system and pathways connecting all of the uses, and you’ll also have this decorative lighting tying it all together,” he said.

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