by Karen E. Culp
Springfieldians can look forward to a cleaner, greener Park Central Square after about $70,000 worth of repairs are made to the city's center.
The repairs will be made only to the square itself, not to the sidewalks on its periphery or the street circling it, said Nicholas Heatherly, assistant director of public works for the city.
The city has enlisted the help of Ownby Associates, and the father-and-son team, Steve and Cory Ownby, are working on the design elements of the plan.
Steve Ownby is a landscape architect who has done quite a bit of work for the city and has worked on the Founders' Park project. Ownby is working as a professional consultant on the job.
The idea for sprucing up the square came about during a downtown beautification day held during the summer, said Lance T. Brown, executive director of Urban Districts Alliance.
"It became apparent, as it had been for some time, actually, that the square is in dire need of repair. We're not looking to fancy it up at this point, but just make the necessary repairs," Brown said.
The goal of the Public Works Department is to get started on the repairs in October, Heatherly said. The city hopes to have the repairs completed before winter begins, he added. Some of the work will be done by contract, and some will be done by city employees.
The money for the repairs, which Heatherly said he hopes will come in under $70,000, is coming from the city's neighborhood improvement fund.
The project involves replacing an irrigation system in the square that is more than 20 years old and inoperable. The brick access walks on the north and south ends of the plaza will be renovated and the bricks removed, Heatherly said. The north-side bricks will be replaced with an interlocking pavement, such as those brick-style pavings on the crosswalks on Park Central west or on the medians at some of the improved intersections, such as National and Sunshine.
The handicapped ramp will be updated, and the ramp inside the plaza will get a handrail, Ownby said. About 22 trees, which are rootbound, dead or unhealthy, will be removed and replaced with about 12 new trees. There are now 40 trees on the plaza, Heatherly said.
"The tree we will probably be using will be the ash. If you look at what trees are faring well in our particular urban setting, you see that ash is doing the best. Maple is probably doing the worst. It's like that with urban trees; you watch them to see which ones fare the best and plant more of those, and less of the ones that don't fare as well," Ownby said.
Old stumps will be removed and soil rejuvenated, so that sod may be applied and grass grown on areas of the plaza, Heatherly said.
The bandstand area will also be updated and made to look more like a bandstand. The vertical members and latticework on the bandstand will be removed, and the bandstand will look more open, Heatherly said. Ownby added that the city is looking into providing a secondary bandstand structure. A portable addition may be available to move near the bandstand during shows or special events, he said.
The fountain in the plaza will be left alone at this point, but may be cleaned a little and maintained. Ownby said that long-range plans for the plaza area include an interactive water feature, and the possible removal of the canopy from the square's storefronts.
Heatherly said that although discussions on removing the canopy are ongoing, pulling the structure down is about a $250,000 project, and earmarking that much money will be difficult.
"When you have something that is that costly, it is difficult to just do it. We're also not sure at this point whether there's 100 percent consensus that everyone wants them down," Heatherly said.
The canopy is owned by the city, Heatherly said.
Brown said he hopes the renovations to the plaza area will help create a square everyone can be proud of.
Ownby agreed. "We hope that when we're done it will be a good gathering place for people, and just a pleasant-looking spot," he said.
The goal is also to make the repairs in such a way that the plaza is easy to maintain and care for, Ownby and Heatherly said.
"The square is something that is an extremely sensitive area to many Springfieldians. We want to bring back a good feeling about the square for the residents," Brown said.
The city is also working on a plan to restore the grid system to the streets downtown, and to therefore remove the so-called tuning forks.
Brown's UDA traffic circulation committee has recommended a possible plan for the streets, but right now the city is considering some options, such as using a roundabout on the streets, and is looking at ways to fund any street improvements.
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