Roberto Clemente Park renovation wins awards and community’s hearts

The American Society of Landscape Architects, Michigan Chapter (MiASLA) awarded the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department and VIRIDIS Design Group’s renovation of Roberto Clemente Park its 2022 Award of Excellence for Social Equity. The highest honor MiASLA bestows, the award recognizes projects that go above and beyond in tackling issues of social equity, diversity and inclusion. The Park also received a design honor award. 

“Roberto Clemente Park hadn't received any improvements for decades,” says Karie Enriquez, City of Grand Rapids Parks Department project manager. “It had a pretty old restroom facility and shelter. There was no playground, nothing really for families to do except for the soccer field.”

Community groups and institutions involved in planning the park at 546 Rumsey St. SW included Grand Rapids Public SchoolsRoosevelt Park Neighborhood AssociationDisability Advocates of Kent County, the Puerto Rican Cultural Committee of West Michigan and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, which will be holding its 2023 spring Arbor Fest and fall Neighborwoods planting events at the park and planting 500 trees throughout the Roosevelt Park neighborhood.

“The community was looking for a new bathroom and a new shelter and also things for families to do, specifically, when they went to soccer games, to make it a destination park,” Enriquez says. “It's a nice, big park space located between those two neighborhoods [Roosevelt Park and Black Hills], and a nice green space in an industrial area.”

The universally accessible renovation includes new pathways, furnishings, soccer-field fencing, lighting, bilingual educational signage and an accessible shelter building with the city park system’s first gender-neutral restroom. Contractors, Katerberg VerHage, Inc., planted 60 new trees as part of the park’s redesign. Created with logs and boulders, a discovery area doubles as a play space and outdoor classroom for nearby GRPS Southwest Community Campus and César E. Chávez Elementary schools.

“This was our first park space that has an all-gender restroom. All of our other bathroom facilities are men and women,” Enriquez says. “That was something that we heard through engagement — people wanted there to be flexibility and options for anyone and everyone to be able to use the bathroom space so we were really happy to provide that. It's our new standard as we move forward installing new bathroom spaces in the park system.”

The park’s namesake, Pittsburg Pirate Roberto Clemente, a 1973 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee who spoke out against the racism and Jim Crow segregation, died in 1972 when his plane, overfilled with aid en route to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, crashed off the coast of his native Puerto Rico. Renovating this park further honors his legacy as its location improves equity within the city’s park system.

Green space, green infrastructure

To fund the $1.5 million renovation, the city leveraged Parks millage dollars to get grant funding from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund.  Because the Park’s design reduces stormwater treatment costs, the city also put $300,000 from its Environmental Services Department toward the project.

With a steep hill on its eastern border, storm water from city streets naturally flows down into the park. The innovative daylighted stormwater infrastructure protects the Grand River and Lake Michigan with bioswales, rain gardens, native meadow plantings that naturalize much of the passive areas, filter pollutants and help reduce stormwater runoff. Daylighting replaces sections of pipe with a surface ditch planted with native species with root systems that remove contaminants from the water passing through them.

“Stormwater, typically, goes down into the drains that you see at the curb. Then it goes into a piping system, travels through the city and will dump into a river,” Enriquez says. “We try to incorporate both green infrastructure and universally accessible design into all of our park spaces.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids
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