Unearthing A Gem

By Paul Roszak
Photos: CT Consultants, Inc.

A beloved park is given new life and energy by unifying fragmented components to better meet the needs of the community. “Public spaces should be seen as outdoor living rooms, a place for the community, families, and visitors to gather and enjoy the setting and each other’s company,” says Berea’s Mayor, Cyril Kleem. Even before being elected, Kleem had a vision for Coe Lake Park as an even more beautiful and functional community space.

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The city of Berea, Ohio—a suburb of Cleveland—is recognized for its beautiful historic downtown and is home to Baldwin-Wallace University and the Cleveland Browns training facility. Coe Lake Park, nestled along a tranquil 20-acre lake created from a former sandstone quarry in the 1800s, is very popular with the community and is a regional destination for wedding and prom photos. The park is adjacent to the lakefront and features walking paths and fishing nodes on the area known as the Peninsula. The park’s central gathering space abuts a lakefront gazebo, a public swimming pool, and a lot that provides parking for the park and the adjacent city hall. Coe Lake Park is home to numerous community events, including the annual Grindstone Festival, the city’s major heritage celebration, with attractions, fireworks, and concerts on the Fourth of July. While iconic in the community, these various park components were developed over time in a haphazard fashion, and as a result, did not relate well to one another or function optimally for events.

In an effort to address functional needs as well as aesthetic desires as envisioned by Kleem, CT Consultants was retained to prepare a master plan to improve the functionality of this multi-use space, unify the various park areas, and relate the park to the existing parking lot, swimming pool, and gazebo. Integral to a successful outcome was ensuring that the various stakeholders of the city were included in the process through close collaboration in order to gain an understanding of long-term goals and expectations. By working closely with Kleem, City Engineer Tony Armagno, Economic Development Director Matt Madzy, and city Parks and Service Department staff members, a master plan was developed that is responsive to the community’s needs while also paying tribute to the city’s heritage.

The Centerpiece Of The Park
One of the city’s primary visions was the creation of an amphitheater within the central lakefront space. An existing 25-foot x 45-foot shelter located in the center of the park was relocated and re-purposed for use at another city park. With the central area now open, the plan for the amphitheater could be implemented. The plan took advantage of the natural topography by constructing seating directly into the hillside, providing spectators with a picturesque view of the stage set on the backdrop of Coe Lake. Hand-hewn, massive sandstone blocks, originally quarried from Coe Lake and salvaged from an old bridge abutment within the city, were set into the slope in four tiers. Each tier—separated by a 6-foot-wide lawn panel—serves as seating during movie nights, performances, concerts, and fireworks.

Immediately in front of the tiered seating, a slightly mounded circular grass area offers informal lawn seating. The lawn is defined by a circular 8-foot-wide accessible antiqued brick walk. For other events, such as art shows, the walk is used for pedestrians while the adjacent lawn is used for vendor displays. Below-grade electrical receptacles in the grass area support vendors as well as house setups for movie nights and concerts. The circular brick walk also ties the existing lakefront gazebo into the rest of the park.

Additional Amenities
Adjacent to the tiered amphitheater at the top of the slope sits a new three-section pavilion, featuring a double-sided fireplace and a cantilevered deck that overlooks the lake. Sandstone-clad columns support the structure and further highlight the history of Coe Lake. A double set of steps, with sandstone cheek walls and LED ribbon lighting, gracefully connects the pavilion to the circular brick walk surrounding the amphitheater lawn.

The nearby pool and bathhouse were isolated from the rest of the park and lakefront as the result of an existing institutional-style, chain-link fence, the lack of pedestrian connection, and a hillside that served as a physical barrier. The plan removed the chain-link fence and replaced it with a simple, see-through decorative, metal picket fence and softened landscaping, with gated access to the new pavilion. The central set of steps in the amphitheater and sidewalk at the top physically and visually connect the park to the pool and bathhouse. The walkway at the top also serves as an accessible route from the parking lot to the pavilion, where disabled individuals are offered unobstructed views of performances on the amphitheater stage. Below-grade electrical receptacles also line the walk for use by vendors during stage events. Restrooms in the bathhouse and vendors are located behind the amphitheater for use by concert-goers without disruption to spectators.

The master plan also called for the park entry to provide identity and be more welcoming to visitors from the parking area. The existing entrance created a visual barrier to the park and consisted of a large expanse of concrete pavement and stone walls with built-in seating that overlooked the parking lot. An asphalt path led into the park between the two wall sections. A new entry was created by removing the visual barrier and opening up the entry with a paved circular plaza, with sandstone blocks around the perimeter for seating. The entry visually identifies the park entrance and invites the public into the space with open views to the lake and the circular amphitheater lawn. A brick walk connects the entry plaza to the walk surrounding the lawn.

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Back On Solid Ground
The nature of the project presented several challenges to design and engineering. Due to the site’s history as a quarry and the resulting unconsolidated layers of fill, special foundations were required to support the pavilion and prevent uneven settlement. Due to the added expense, the project was built in two phases. The pavilion and walk leading to it were completed during the first phase. A permanent stage at the lake’s edge was part of the master plan; however, due to the added expense of the additional foundation-support system, the city decided on temporary stages to accommodate the requirements of individual performances. The city will evaluate future construction of a permanent stage based on the results of using temporary stages.

Another project challenge involved the engineering of an electrical system to accommodate major concert events and the associated sound and lighting systems. The electrical engineer worked closely with city staff to determine these requirements. Site lighting was designed on separate circuitry to allow the city to dim or turn off lights during events. The existing terrain of the site also posed issues to meet ADA requirements for pedestrian access as well as vehicular access. The site-grading plan addressed these issues while still providing a visually flowing sidewalk system that seamlessly fits into the topography. The use of reinforced grass along the edges of walks allows emergency and maintenance vehicles access without causing damage to the turf.

The first phase of the project was completed in the summer of 2016, with the second-phase amphitheater completed in late spring of 2018. The new Coe Lake Park opened on July 2, 2018, with the Grindstone Festival. Total project construction costs for both phases were approximately $1.6 million, with Zerbe Construction as the contractor for both phases.

Paul Roszak is a Landscape Architect and Project Manager with CT Consultants, Inc., and was the lead designer for the Coe Lake Park project. He has over 30 years of professional experience as a licensed Landscape Architect. Reach him at proszak@ctconsultants.com.