Retrofitting For Sustainability

By Bruce Dees

For more than 30 years, Grass Lawn Park has been the most utilized “year-round” park in Redmond, Wash., providing a variety of recreational opportunities and a unique respite in the middle of an urbanized area. After many years as a valuable regional amenity, the park’s fields and facilities were in need of renovation. Poor drainage affected the park’s winter-use potential, while the community was emerging with changing recreational needs that the old park could no longer satisfy.


In response, the city’s parks department and the landscape-architecture firm of Bruce Dees & Associates developed several goals to improve the park to better sustain itself in the future:

  1. Address negative environmental impacts
  2. Reduce maintenance costs
  3. Increase revenue to support other park-maintenance operations
  4. Create a site that could meet the needs of the community.

Phase I
In order to accomplish these, the renovation was planned in three separate phases. The first phase involved converting the existing sand soccer field to synthetic turf. The original field continually flooded due to insufficient, deteriorated drainage. The runoff dramatically degraded the water quality in the storm-sewer system, which eventually empties into the salmon-supporting Sammamish River. The 2½-percent diagonal slope across the field caused severe erosion, with runoff filling the structures to capacity with silt. Maintenance crews spent considerable time cleaning out catch basins and other structures during rain storms and winter months, and continuously struggled to contain the silt with sand bags and other erosion-control methods.

The plan for the renovated field called for a set level around the perimeter with a ½-percent center crown and a 10-foot-wide porous rubber-coated warning track. Surfaced with a permeable material, the track allowed for infiltration of rainwater without the necessary additional detention facilities, thus minimizing the footprint of the facility.

Today, there is literally no silt runoff from the field; subsequent tests prove that there are no harmful materials in the water, which percolates through the sand/rubber infill through the crushed rock base to the field’s new sub-drain lines.

The overwhelming success of the facility--now considered one of the area’s premier soccer venues--also can be attributed to a new floodlighting system. The installation dramatically increased playing time as well as revenue for the city. One year prior to construction, the field generated $19,857 in revenue. After construction, the same renovated field generated $59,010 in revenue. This 297-percent increase was the result of an additional 924 hours of available use for field users. This increase in revenue helps fund maintenance in other parts of the park, allowing the facility to better sustain itself financially.

Phase II
During the second phase, one of the three grass softball fields was converted to synthetic turf. This allowed the field to serve both softball and summer youth soccer programs. Like the first-phase

Converting one of three grass softball fields to synthetic turf increased the scheduling ability for the field, which created additional revenue for the city of Redmond, Wash.

renovation, the conversion eliminated nutrient runoff, and simultaneously increased the scheduling ability for the facility, which helped generate more revenue for the city. Six tennis courts were renovated during this phase and built-in bleachers were installed for the ball fields as well. A specially designed hooded backstop was installed to protect spectators and passersby.

Phase III
The third phase of the project received a $500,000 Department of Ecology LID Grant to incorporate further low-impact development strategies into the park. This phase focused on the passive-use area of the park.  Stormwater management was addressed during this phase through the installation of a “green” roof on the park’s maintenance building. Rain gardens were also designed to capture and filter runoff from a new multi-use building, which was also part of the project. Pervious asphalt paving was incorporated to replace pathways and reduce the hardscape footprint. This technique was also applied to the adjacent basketball courts.

The three phases of the Grass Lawn Park project enhanced the environmental, financial, and social sustainability of the facility, transforming a park with serious operational constraints into a well-utilized facility. Today, the site is a successful example of how a well-loved public park can be retrofitted to conform to conscientious growth and sustainable development.

Bruce Dees, FASLA, is the principal of Bruce Dees & Associates, a landscape-architecture, urban-design, site-planning, and recreational-facilities design firm in Tacoma, Wash.