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Long-awaited Founders Park nearing completion

November 14th, 2013 11:51 am by Gary B. Gray

Long-awaited Founders Park nearing completion

Ron Campbell photo/Johnson City Press

Get those golden shovels ready.

Founder’s Park, a project identified years ago by the city’s Downtown Stormwater Task Force and the Washington County Economic Development Council as necessary to help alleviate flooding problems at various sections of Brush Creek, is nearing the finish line.

But make no mistake, the 5-acre park does much more than move water.

“The nice thing about it is it’s open space for downtown, and I expect you’ll see a lot of people out and about here,” Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said Tuesday. “What people will have to do is adjust to the venue. It’s critical for downtown to have a place for events. Developers and existing businesses love it.”

The project deadline for Thomas Construction is the end of this month, but substantial completion is expected in December, meaning all but the non-essential parts and pieces should be in place and functional. The original estimated completion date was Aug. 10. 

The estimated final cost for construction is about $2.8 million. When engineering, permitting and property acquisition is figured in, the total estimated cost is about $5 million. 

City-owned land along West State of Franklin Road is being turned into a multi-functional piece of property between Sevier Street and Wilson Avenue at which Brush Creek will be opened up to capture floodwater.

Most people traveling along Sevier now can see the new stone walls carrying water, landscaping and other improvements. This area certainly serves a purpose, but some of the more visual and useful components begin at the park’s midpoint and continue north, including cascading waterfalls. 

Five-ton stones support a channel and pipe that collects and deposits runoff from the Tree Streets into the creek at about the midway point, and the configuration is a bit imposing when you stand near it on a section of the park’s winding pathways.

Sidewalks circle the park, and visitors can enter the park at three main locations: Tipton Street, where underground utilities are going in and extra parking is being created; Sevier; and via a sidewalk that connects the coming Farmers Market and what used to be a section of Wilson Avenue. 

“Tupelo Honey has donated art that will be placed at the two ends of the park,” Pindzola said. “There also will be plazas at either end. Underground wiring has been installed at and around the new amphitheater and light poles are on the way that will light a large area. We also expect 14 to 15 sculptures will be going up throughout the park.”

At the end of the park nearest downtown, sidewalks encircle the amphitheater which includes a concrete stage roughly 30 feet in diameter below. A new bridge has been placed on the south side of the creek, and it’s easy to envision visitors standing there, on the sidewalks, on the new seawalls, on the new grass banks and in the amphitheater during various events. 

A lot of water has gone under the bridge, so to speak.

The task force was formed in 2007, and the site was one of the very first targeted for major repairs. Two years ago, the city issued about $6 million in debt to begin this project and to pay for peripheral flood mitigation projects, such as the McClure Street sump and the Boone Street detention pond, using money from stormwater fee revenues to carry the load.

Don Mauldin, Knoxville’s Lamar Dunn & Associates’ executive vice president and lead consultant/engineer for the city’s $30 million long-range flood mitigation plan, had his first conversation with commissioners about flooding in 2008. In 2009, he rolled out refined and reconfigured plans of the overall project a number times, and at several venues.  

Prior to the City Commission’s vote in 2012 to start on Founder’s Park, Mauldin explained how a large box culvert underneath a large concrete slab at the site would be opened to reduce the current dramatic downward rate at which it flows. Instead, the new configuration will reveal an open creek with waterfalls that drop water in 2-foot increments.

“This will allow Brush Creek to flood but not get out of its banks,” he said at the time. “There will be grass entry points, landscaping, a new sidewalk, curbing and on-street parking along Lamont Street and an open area where an amphitheater could go.”

That was then; this is now.

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