14 Jul 2015
RPS Klotz Associates is attracting significant attention for its work on the design of the North Houston Skatepark: the largest skatepark in North America, and Dylan Park on the same site with playground equipment for special needs children.
In addition to local and national press, executives from the X Games have toured the site to evaluate the potential for holding future events there. RPS Klotz Associates provided the civil engineering and overall project management.
The awards that the park has received to date are listed below:
In North America's largest skate park paired with a park without limits, innovative drainage creates unique green spaces. Greenspoint, a north Houston area with 87% minority population and modest to low-income households, offered limited free recreation choices for youth. The Greater Greenspoint Redevelopment Authority, which generates public amenities, started planning a public park in 2009 to fill this recreational void. When they asked area teenagers about activities they desired in a park, the overwhelming response was “skateboarding.”
The Authority also wanted to provide a recreational area specifically designed for special needs children. The 10-acre recreational area was conceived as two parks in one — the world-class championship North Houston Skatepark and a complementary “park without limits”, named in memory of a local child.
Innovative Design Applications
The team kicked off the project by orchestrating a series of charrettes with an advisory committee of skateboarding enthusiasts, eliciting their ideas about desired features. Backyard-style pools, a simple but deep egg bowl, areas that emulate street skating and a snake run connecting them all were features requested by the advisory committee. The skateboarders also asked for a competition-scale full pipe, 20 feet in diameter.
Carving out a barren floodplain site to accommodate these intricate features as well as the accessibility requirements of Dylan Park presented a formidable challenge. Assembling all of these features within a site plan that satisfies agency requirements for stormwater, drainage and detention systems required an iterative process among the engineers, skate park designers and landscape architects that led to a unique drainage solution.
Bordered on three sides by city streets and with a county drainage channel on the fourth side, the entire site is located in a 100-year floodplain. The engineers had to design a detention and drainage system that would carry stormwater off the site without flooding the streets or overloading the drainage channel. A commonplace solution would be to design one large detention pond. Recognizing that the Authority wanted to incorporate green spaces into the project, the engineers devised a unique drainage scheme more akin to a golf course.
Nine separate detention ponds are scattered around the site, providing multiple opportunities to inject green space throughout — a rarity in skate parks where concrete prevails. The ponds hold water during rainfall events before gradually releasing collected water into the drainage channel. RPS Klotz Associates enhanced the detention ponds' functionality by incorporating bioretention cells with engineering soils that filter water. The resulting water that outfalls to the drainage channel is scrubbed of impurities, improving downstream water quality.
A Complex Site Plan
Balancing skateboarding features, aesthetic needs and technical engineering requirements was a complex exercise throughout the design process. Many of the skate park features created undulation in the site. The client also wanted berms and a grassy banked viewing area instead of permanent bleachers. Because the site is located in a floodplain, flood control regulations require stormwater mitigation to assure any changes in elevation will not be impede the flow of water and therefore potentially flood nearby properties. As part of collaborative design, the skate park designers laid out features for optimal sequencing of skate elements by degree of difficulty while the civil engineers analyzed site grading for effectiveness of the stormwater system, drainage and detention.
Existing wetlands also affected complexity in site planning. Both parks were designed around conditional wetland areas, so that no wetlands mitigation was required. The landscape architect incorporated native plantings to improve the appearance of these areas without negatively impacting the wetlands.
Paving and Special Surfaces
Specifications for surface materials proved another complex aspect of the project. The skatepark designer specified “skateable concrete” to achieve a glassy-smooth finish. This required thicker concrete with a different water-to-cement ratio than ordinary sidewalk concrete. Plans specified five different colors of skateable concrete, including aqua green, to give the backyard-style pools a retro 1970s feel.
Construction of the skate bowls also entailed complexity. To achieve the best skating experience, the number of joints to create the bowls was minimized. Contractors hand-finished the concrete, massaging it to smooth perfection. Dylan Park also incorporated special surfaces, with sandblasted concrete for aesthetics and purple and blue poured-in-place rubber for safety surfaces.
A Focus On Aesthetics
By incorporating detention ponds and green space throughout the parks, RPS Klotz Associates set a precedent for a more eco-friendly and aesthetically pleasing approach to skate parks that diverges from the standard sea of concrete. The team applied creativity in designing the parking lot as egg-shaped with a detention pond in the middle — demonstrating that not all surface parking has to look ordinary.
Social Economic and Sustainable Development Considerations
In transforming a featureless site into an urban oasis, the team delivered an important community asset. While the skate park is targeted toward skateboarders, families with younger children can picnic on its grassy observation bank. Seniors can interact with their skateboarding grandchildren under one of the canopied rest areas. The lower inclines of the beginners' skate area can host wheelchair games.
Dylan Park has ADA-compliant ramps, tables, benches and playground equipment, plus open grassy areas for unstructured play and paved trails. The park facilities, combined with multi-sensory features, delight children of all abilities, from sight-impaired and hearing-impaired to autistic and wheelchair-bound.
“A lot of the kids in this area don't have the funds to play tennis or golf or enroll in Little League. They can go to a skate park with a skateboard and a helmet, and they're set. They have a safe environment to skate in instead of ravines or empty shopping centers.” Sally Bradford, Greenspoint Redevelopment Authority Executive Director.
The RPS Klotz Associates team facilitated active community engagement throughout the process. Charrettes with the advisory committee resulted in the request for a Texas-shaped bowl for the 20-foot-diameter full pipe. This feature provides visual interest from the ground and to airplanes on the flight path to George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The team also held two rounds of public meetings — the first to get feedback on preliminary ideas and the second to review refined plans, which overwhelmingly met community approval.
The RPS Klotz Associates team incorporated artwork commissioned by the Authority into park plans. Because Dylan loved butterflies, artist Dixie Friend Gay incorporated them into the gate and a mosaic of Dylan at his park's entry. The mosaic is also tactile, providing sensory experience for the sight-impaired. The skate park entry sports an edgy armadillo-themed gate.
Seattle artist Andrew Carson designed a colorful standing mobile for a quiet area within Dylan Park, to appeal to autistic children. Skateboard Hall of Fame inductee and artist Steve Olsen crafted a bronze skateboarder statue for the skate park.
Sustainable Project Elements
Sustainable design is incorporated into multiple aspects of the project — the bioretention cells that improve water quality, wetlands mitigation, a retaining wall of gabions-wire cases with rocks inside that filter water and reduce run-off, grass pavers on the access driveway and energy-efficient LED lighting. Carving the deep skate bowls into the site required moving a substantial amount of soil. The team devised ways to reuse excavated soil for skate park features, the viewing hill and berms, eliminating the environmental impact of hauling soil off site.
Completing The Project
The RPS Klotz Associates team worked closely alongside Greenspoint Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Sally Bradford, maintaining active engagement with the client's board members and the local community. The end result more than meets the client's goal to create a park without limits and fill a recreational void. As the largest skate park in North America, the park has attracted inquiries from all over the U.S., including Alaska, plus the Netherlands and Chile. A YouTube video of a drone flight over the park has racked up 93,000 hits.
Budget and Schedule
Greenspoint's Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone #11 is funded by five taxing agencies — the City of Houston, Harris County, Lone Star College, Aldine Independent School District and Spring Independent School District. The Authority sought the support from all five agencies to move forward into construction.
Originally slated to go out for construction bids in 2010, the park was put on hold while the Authority worked through concerns expressed by the City of Houston about safety and ongoing maintenance costs. When these concerns were resolved and the project received approval in 2012, construction in Houston was booming and construction costs had escalated substantially beyond the $5.5 million budget originally developed in 2009. Because of the overwhelming public acceptance of the project, Bradford was able to get the Authority's board to approve the additional funds to get the park constructed. The 2012 bid came in at $6.5 million, construction began in January 2013 and the final costs came in at the bid amount. The project was completed in August 2014.
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