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Play equipment was designed with bright primary colors to contrast with the surrounding trees. The park's splash pad caters to day camps and locals alike. Photo: Edwards and Kelcey

Landscape and park designers often run into strange problems when designing into an existing space. For Paul W. Bouchard, the problem was hawthorn trees. “The preservation of existing trees was the biggest challenge concerning the orientation and layout of the project, which includes the splash pad and playground,” said Bouchard, associate vice president with Chicago-based AEC firm Edwards and Kelcey.

Related to crab apples, hawthorns are thorny little trees with less showy, less variable flowers. These trees can drop unsightly and messy fruit to the ground—not ideal for a children's play area. The city agreed to the removal of these offenders, but other trees had to remain.

The Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., Park District commissioned Edwards and Kelcey to develop concepts for the redevelopment of an existing play area adjacent to its Heritage Center. The project site incorporated a new splash pad for playing in the water, a new play equipment area for various ages, a seated meeting place for parents, and a shelter for group use.

Loss of existing trees was minimized by carefully planning the play areas among the larger mature trees while removing species such as the undesirable hawthorns and box elders. The existing trees provide shade from the sun and screening from the wind, a visual separation from neighboring properties, and provide an instant established look to the project.

“We worked closely with the Park District Board of Commissioners on the preliminary planning,” said Bouchard. “Final design was completed after exploring several schemes and generating cost estimates for each.”

One of the most unique parts of the park—the splash pad—was designed with a recirculating water circuit. The majority of the water is stored in a buried reservoir, treated with a chlorination system, and pumped to the features via a programmable electronic control system in a buried vault. It eventually drains back to the reservoir and begins the cycle again. The system's 800 gallons is periodically drained and replaced.

“The choice between the types of drainage systems was a major consideration—either waste to drain or re-circulating of the water,” said Bouchard. “The latter system was some $100,000 more expensive to install due to the mechanical features of the system. However, the recirculating system chosen was the prudent and environmentally wise choice for the Park District due to the district's conservatory nature.”

The splash pad incorporates a broom-finish, non-skid concrete surface, which was stained to provide a water theme—the visual effect is of a body of water even though there is no standing water. The play equipment both on the splash pad and playground was selected with bright primary colors to contrast with the surrounding greenery.

All of the paths to the park were sloped within Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recommended limits; the splash pad was sloped to provide both adequate drainage and 100% accessibility. Some of the features were selected to meet height needs of children in wheelchairs.

Seating around the splash pad and playground also incorporate wheelchair spaces. The playground was designed with roughly half of the area in an ADA-approved rubberized safety surface and the remaining half in sand. The majority of the playground features are within the rubber surface, most notably the climbing frame and slides, which incorporate a transition platform for children in wheelchairs.

The carefully considered design meets the needs of the users while fitting into the surrounding mature trees. Social interaction among parents is also invaluable in building neighborhood ties. The success of the splash pad has the Park District organizing planned events for school groups and family parties alike.

“The construction was completed in four months, allowing for inclement spring weather, with a final completion in June 2004,” said Bouchard. The total cost of $454,068 was paid for by Park District funds.