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A marvel underfoot

To the average citizen, Clearwater's Glen Oaks Park is, well, a park. But officials know its stormwater secret.

Published October 1, 2006

CLEARWATER - Just more than a year ago, Glen Oaks Park was nothing but big holes and dirt mounds.

A lot has changed since then.

City workers are planting, literally, the final touches on what will be Clearwater's newest recreation playground, a $7.6-million park along Court Street that's also a stormwater management project in disguise.

It could be finished by early November and open by January.

The park features two soccer fields, five ponds, a pavilion and a series of walking trails.

But it's much more than that, city officials say. It also includes a complex drainage system that works with the ponds to catch rainfall, clean runoff and filter Stevenson Creek.

And it will reduce street flooding on major arteries such as Cleveland Street and protect 78 nearby homes in the event of a 100-year flood.

"It's an engineering marvel covered with a park on top," said city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli. "People don't realize that flooding structures like this are being built. They just see a new park - they don't notice that the streets aren't flooded. They don't realize the city is doing all this work behind the scenes."

The park replaces the 27-acre Glen Oaks Golf Course. It's bounded by Betty Lane to the west, Hillcrest Avenue to the east, Court Street to the north, and Druid Road to the south. It also includes 4 more acres of wetlands and a pond on the other side of Court Street at the former David Martin soccer field.

"To the average person, this looks like a group of soccer fields, but in a significant storm, they'd be used to control flooding," said Perry Lopez, the city's building construction manager. "But if there was a major rain today, you could play on it tomorrow."

Here's how it works:

The creek water enters into a series of three ponds beginning at Druid Road and runs under Court Street and then into a fourth pond near Franklin Street before flowing back into Stevenson Creek. Another pond on the south side of Court Street typically stays dry but is designed to catch an excess runoff from the other ponds.

The ponds, as well as the nearby soccer fields, have underground drainage systems that capture runoff and filter silt and debris. That water also goes into the ponds, where the native plants filter natural pollutants such as algae.

The city began planning the project in mid 2001 to help clean the polluted Stevenson Creek.

City leaders, though, said they didn't want to build the ponds and then surround them with cyclone fences, a common way to design stormwater management projects. Instead, they wanted something residents could use.

The move wasn't widely popular at first because many residents said the soccer fields would bring noise, overpowering lighting and vagrancy.

City officials approved the plans, moving the soccer fields farther from homes and agreeing to shut off the lights daily by 9 p.m., two hours earlier than other fields in the city.

Crews began digging the ponds - some as deep as 12 feet - in May 2005. They have also plowed the way for the soccer fields and constructed a pavilion and boardwalks for some of the ponds.

The city needs to pave the trails, sod the fields and plant a few more bulrushes and spatterdocks - plants native to wetland ponds that help clean algae from the water.

The project costs $7.6-million, and the city will pay for about $4.5-million, with state and federal funding, as well as a donation from Progress Energy, covering the rest.

This is the city's third major water management project, with the other two being Kapok Park and the downtown lake. Lopez, though, called this "the gem of the three," because it includes the sports fields and playground.

"From our experience, we get better every time," he said.

[Last modified September 30, 2006, 22:08:04]

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