A Hero’s Legacy

Delivering a place to relax, explore, and have fun

By Tara Cameron
Photos: Seferian Design Group

It was a park named for a local hero, so Seferian Design Group (SDG) wanted to make it right.

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The firm was retained in October 2017 to provide landscape architecture and design services for the park in Guelph, Ontario. Located just west of downtown at 235 Elizabeth Street, the 1.8-acre park was named for Domenic “Mico” Valeriote, a local athlete and elected member of city council, who was known as the best middle-distance runner in Canada around 1930, according to the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame.

Existing amenities at the park included:

• A wading pool
• A playground (2007) with swings, small structure, and climber
• An open-space area
• A number of mature trees.

Thoughtful Planning
The re-design was initiated after a report presented to the city in June 2017 recommended the removal of the wading pool, constructed in the 1970s. The pool was nearing the end of its service and would require a significant capital investment to continue to operate.

SDG assembled a small, focused team of professionals with expertise in the wide range of disciplines this project required. In addition to dealing with landscape architecture, the consulting team included civil engineering, electrical engineering, structural engineering, and arboriculture.

Senior Landscape Architect and Project Manager, Brad Smith, worked closely with the city to understand and analyze background information, public-consultation feedback, and reports to ensure the landscape programming reflected the city’s goals and design criteria, while creating a park space that flourished within the community. The final plan of the redesign was:

• Cost-effective
• Functional and aesthetically pleasing
• Diverse for a number of uses, users, and functions
• Practical for facility operation and maintenance efficiency
• Safe, secure, and accessible
• Compliant with local and city policies, including but not limited to the Guelph Facility Accessibility Design Manual, Ontario Building Code, and the city’s Official Plan.

One of the key objectives for this park, as reported by Smith, was cultural diversity. “Parks need to remove barriers, create movement, and allow people to inject their own meaning within the space, so our landscape program for the park had to be inclusive of all ages and all abilities,” he says.

In addition to diversification, SDG designed the park to become a neighborhood destination. One of the main challenges is that the park is zoned P2, which means there is no onsite parking or lighting. “We had to design the park in a way that included amenities and included features that wanted to draw people into the park and keep them there,” Smith says. “[Features] that made them want to walk or travel throughout the city to get to this park, and to not just hop in their car and drive to it; that they can actually access it by walking, cycling, and public transit.”

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Design features for the park included:

• An asphalt pathway routed in a circular manner to allow users to walk, jog, or run in a loop
• A secondary concrete pathway
• “Junior” and “senior” playground spaces
• Smaller, isolated areas of water play to replace the original, outdated wading pool.

These amenities were carefully planned in order to promote the city’s main objective of encouraging health and well-being. Additional park features included seating (benches and accessible tables), bike racks, signage, plantings, natural areas, a water play feature, and areas for active and passive recreation.

Innovative Strategies
During the conceptual design phase, SDG and the city had originally planned on installing a large, metal shade structure within the park. However, the community raised a valid concern. As mentioned above, the park did not include any site lighting, and the majority of the park space is not visible from a municipal road or another municipal space, so the park is completely surrounded by existing residential properties. This lack of visibility could lead to unwanted activities, such as drug use and homelessness.

To solve this problem, SDG came up with a unique, custom steel-canopy structure that would be installed near the entrance of the park to create a stronger sense of place and arrival at the park entrance. “Park amenities and features were designed in a way to allow strong sightlines from Elizabeth Street and throughout the park to existing residences to alleviate and discourage unwanted activities throughout the park,” Smith says. The steel canopy was laser-etched with a pattern that created dappled shade on the ground, and an interpretive sign was also included near the entrance to describe the story of Valeriote.

Additionally, the park contains several mature trees that the city wanted to save, which SDG managed to do with innovative thinking. “Our team had to really focus the design of park features in a way to respond and work with the existing vegetation,” Smith explains. “Pathways had to be routed around or through trees but adhere to proper protection zones [so as] to not impact long-term health and vigor of the existing vegetation.”

Fiscal responsibility in any park design is always a challenge. The park budget was tested when the replacement of the perimeter fencing was added to the program, but the budget did not increase. SDG had to get creative and think outside the box in an effort to not sacrifice design integrity. “We had to rethink the design and work with less budget, but still include aspects of the original design. For example, formal benches with concrete pads around the play structure were replaced with informal, armour stone seating.” says Smith. This way, the stones would still provide seating but at a much lower cost.

Through fearless creativity, SDG has brought Dominic “Mico” Valeriote Park to the beautiful, captivating, and community-focused place it is today. Smith’s primary wish is to provide the community of Guelph with a place to relax, explore, and have fun. “We hope the city and the users are as proud of this project and as proud of this park as we are,” he says. “Teamwork makes dream work!”

Tara Cameron is the Digital Marketing Manager for Seferian Design Group in Burlington, Ontario. Reach her at tara@seferiandesign.com.