By Ellen Spitaleri
It has been a long time coming, but construction has finally begun on improvements to Laurelwood Park, a third-of-an-acre green space at the intersection of SE Foster Road and SE Holgate Blvd.
The triangle of land has been a Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) property since 1923 but was never fully developed until now.
In 2013, the Laurelwood Park community chose a design concept centered around a new plaza, although it wasn’t until 2019 that the project received $1.4 million in funding.
Construction is underway now, with completion anticipated in late summer or early fall, said Mark Ross, PP& R’s public information officer.
“We are using Parks System Development Charges (SDC), not General Fund tax dollars, to expand the capacity of Laurelwood Park,” he said.
“SDCs help ensure that Portland’s quality of life keeps pace with our growing and changing city by providing additional parks and recreation facilities needed to accommodate growth,” Ross noted, adding that these funds cannot be used for running PP&R swimming pools, for example.
The completed park will feature pathways that extend from the plaza and provide connections to Foster Rd. and an adjacent property to the east, two lawn areas, individual planting areas and a location designated for an art installation.
“PP&R will be working with the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) on the type of art which will be installed at the park,” Ross said. “A percentage of the budget for capital projects funded by SDCs are dedicated towards art installation in partnership with RACC.”
An arbor will be located on the south side of the plaza to act as both shelter and a community icon. Seat walls will extend along the Holgate Blvd. and Foster Rd. frontage to provide seating and protection from the busy roadways.
“The intent is to create a signature public space that will serve as a centerpiece for the continued development along SE Foster Rd.,” Ross noted.
New trees will replace trees that had to be removed during the renovations and new sidewalks will be added around the park for safer and increased access.
Ross said the pandemic has made it clear that parks are vital for mental and physical health.
“Parks, trails, trees and natural areas make a city more livable, desirable, peaceful, cooler in summer and provide places for relaxation, reflection and recreation,” he added.
“Creating a new signature space for community members to gather is at the heart of the mission of PP&R,” said Ken Rumbaugh, PP&R’s community engagement coordinator.
“As COVID-19 public health and safety protocols allow, we look forward to Laurelwood Park being a popular spot for volunteers, with neighbors lending a hand to further beautify and improve the revitalized park,” Rumbaugh said.
“Once complete, leashed dogs will be welcome in Laurelwood Park; [and] dog owners are expected to properly obey all leash and scoop laws,” he added.
Rumbaugh said the most rewarding part of the Laurelwood Park project has been “taking neighbors’ input and working collaboratively, working with our staff and neighbors on the planning, design and construction processes and creating a place where neighbors can gather and make memories.”
Sean McClintock, chair of the Foster/Powell Neighborhood Association, described the park as being in the heart of the business district, where it will occupy a key place in the community.
He thanked PP&R “for the partnership they created through the process to involve the neighbors.”
For him, the significance of the park is that “the city is acknowledging not only the opportunity to make improvements to benefit businesses, but is also providing an opportunity for recreation.”
Travis Ruybal, PP&R landscape architect and project manager for the Laurelwood Park improvements, said he was thrilled with the final design outcome.
“Speaking for everyone at PP&R, we are all excited to deliver this project for our community, Ruybal said. “I believe this development will activate the park in a positive way while providing a public plaza as a warm and welcoming gathering area, to further enhance the vibrant neighborhood.”
Before construction on Laurelwood Park could begin, workers had to remove campers from the site.
“It is heartbreaking seeing people who are living outdoors. None of our parks and natural areas are designed for people to live in, but sadly that activity has occurred for years, and continues now,” Ross said.
He added, “When houseless neighbors are willing to accept help, our staff works patiently and compassionately to connect them to social services providers for assistance. This is the case with everyone we encounter living at a PP&R property.”
Image by Portland Parks & Recreation