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ELM PARK IN DOWNTOWN WORCESTER

The past and the present
find common ground in Worcester’s Elm Park.

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Elm Park in downtown Worcester is one of the oldest parks in the United States designed and built with public funds specifically allocated for creating a community park.  Beals+Thomas, a longtime provider of landscape architecture services to the City of Worcester, was delighted to get the call to help in the reconstruction of Elm Park’s iconic, red bridge.  Making the project especially rewarding was collaborating with Worcester Polytechnic Institute students who designed the new bridge as well as Worcester Technical High School students who were charged with building the replacement structure.

 

Our assignment was to create new walkways that allowed handicap access to the bridge. It was more challenging than it sounds. The original bridge was constructed so that people could skate underneath it during the winter months when the ponds freeze.  Therefore, the structure was relatively high in the middle with steep inclines.  The replacement bridge needed to retain its original proportions and clearance. 

 

“We had to have the project reviewed by Preservation Worcester –
a local, private historical organization. It required a sensitive and balanced approach since the City is trying to make improvements consistent with the park’s period design but also has to keep in
mind the cost of ongoing maintenance,” recalled Beals+Thomas Principal Dave LaPointe.  

 

LaPointe and his team recommended adding fill on both sides to gradually raise up the pathway, thereby flattening out the bridge for handicap access without changing its height and clearance over the water.  Conceptually, Preservation Worcester agreed with the solution but preferred that the pathways remain dirt and gravel.  The City wanted a more durable surface that wouldn’t rut with traffic and therefore would be more maintenance free.  The compromise? 
Paved pathways topped with a layer of crushed stone that
looks like the original, historic surface. 

 

There’s more to this seemingly simple solution than meets the sole
of the shoe.  Beals+Thomas has a strong reputation for being very client-centric. However, LaPointe says that his approach to winning the approval of the City and Preservation Worcester was to treat both like clients.  Responding to all phone calls, listening intently and respectfully, and finding common ground, (literally in this case),
was key to bringing the project to a successful close. 

 

LaPointe points out that everyone at Beals+Thomas works hard at being professional and not creating issues that may leave a bad impression with local permitting, environmental or historic commissions.  After all, not only is it critical to realizing our clients’ visions, you never know when we might be before them again.