Portions of Charlottesville’s McIntire Park are currently orange as crews carve out red-clay dirt for a roadway, but planning is underway for a green future after construction is completed.
“We’re trying to strategically align ourselves so that we’re ready,” said Helen Flamini, president of the McIntire Botanical Garden’s board of directors.
The nonprofit group was formed five years ago to campaign for a public space where the area’s natural beauty could be appreciated by residents.
Its successful efforts culminated in September when the City Council adopted a new master plan for the eastern side of the park that will phase out the existing golf course in favor of the new amenity.
“The area near the confluence of the two streams in the northeast portion of the park is planned as the core area of a botanical garden, and will include a pond or lake,” city planners wrote in a request for proposals to design the park. That process yielded five submissions.
A firm to design the park will be selected within a month and a public input period to direct their work will kick off in August.
As yet, there is no price tag for the reconfigured park and its new features.
“A lot of the cost estimates will be determined by the design and the engineering that needs to go on to determine how the park topography and infrastructure will come about and fit into the master plan,” Flamini said.
Nor are there specifics on what the garden will look like or whether there will be any structures to support functions.
“It is entirely open-ended now and it will depend upon the landscape architectural perspective and having a firm to look at what is possible,” Flamini said.
Lonnie Murray, an Albemarle County resident who was part of another group that sought a regional botanical garden, is hopeful the garden’s development will be guided by experts.
“Ultimately, what botanical gardens do is focus on research and conversation, and the public garden piece is really the tip of the iceberg,” Murray said. He added that conservation and propagation of rare species should be among its missions.
Flamini said education will be a big part of the garden’s mission.
“The educational components that we have always discussed are critical and very important to unite the community and the educational process from pre-school to college level and beyond,” Flamini said.
Flamini added that there will be a focus on Central Virginia’s native plants, as well.
The park will reopen some months after construction of McIntire Road Extended is finished in the summer of 2015, thus completing the city’s portion of the Meadow Creek Parkway.
“We would hope by spring of 2016 that the park may be ready to be opened in a way that people can come into the park and start appreciating the beauty and natural features,” Flamini said. “How much of the garden might be open at that time I don’t know.”
Flamini said the group is currently fundraising through the website http://mcintirebotanicalgarden.org.
The scope of work for design services does not extend to the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial, the forthcoming bike-pedestrian bridge or the skate park. The request for proposals also did not ask firms to submit a plan for how the garden would be managed.
Under the terms of the proposal, the trail network in the park will be built before the botanical garden is implemented and before picnic shelters and a family activity center are installed.
Meanwhile, the city has received the funding it needs to build a bike and pedestrian bridge to connect both sides of a park bisected by the railroad. The Virginia Department of Transportation awarded $609,000 after the project hit cost overruns.
“The bridge is one of the first steps in opening up more access to both sides of McIntire Park as part of the recently adopted park master plans, as well as supporting the Route 250 Bypass commuter trail, currently under construction from the park to Hydraulic Road,” said Chris Gensic, the city’s parks and trails planner.
Gensic said he hopes the bridge will be in place by next June.
Meanwhile, the Piedmont Family YMCA is continuing to secure financing for its $14.5 million aquatics and fitness center that will be built on the western side of the park. That project’s future had been in limbo until a Virginia Supreme Court ruling supportive of the project was issued in January.