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Centennial Center Park

by Axel Bishop, PLA, ASLA, co-founder/principal, Design Concepts, CLA, Inc., principal in charge of design and planning for Centennial Center Park in Centennial, Colo.

Centennial Center Park debuted in April 2012 as the first municipal park in Centennial, Colo., a new city just southeast of Denver that was incorporated in February 2001. The play structure and play pieces (left) are from Kompan; the towering "fort" structure with slides is from Landscape Structures.
Photo: Robb Williamson

In August 2012, following the London Olympic Games, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper led a crowd of hundreds at the new Center Park in Centennial, welcoming home Colorado Olympians. Athletes included local swimmer Missy Franklin, winner of four Gold Medals in London. It was a day of celebration for this creative play park that even on a normal day is drawing crowds. One of the main attractions is the park's cross-generational playground, a multidimensional play space that appeals to the kid in everyone. Centennial Center Park opened in April as the first municipal park in Centennial, a community incorporated on Feb. 7, 2001. The new city, just southeast of Denver and south of Aurora, incorporated parts of Arapahoe County and the communities of Castlewood and Southglenn. The joined communities yielded a population of about 100,000, making Centennial the largest incorporation in U.S. history.


The Centennial Park gateways are by Chevo Studios of Denver; the lead artist was Andy Dufford. The gateway columns are hand-pitched Colorado buff sandstone (Arkins Park Stone) topped with metal arches with detailed metal cutouts of birds in flight. The piece is "Migrations," which celebrates the annual bird migrations along the Rocky Mountains corridor.

Photo: Robb Williamson


Centennial wanted a central gathering place for the community, and asked Design Concepts of Lafayette, Colo. to design the master plan for the 11-acre park. Working with the city council we designed the recreation elements specifically so visitors could do a surprising variety of activities in close proximity. We believe the playground is a venue, an invitation
to socialize.

The playground design maximizes opportunities for kids to interact, which is by far the most important aspect of play. From our experience designing playgrounds and observing the results, we suspect that playground activity is composed of smaller percentages of physical movement and imagination, and a larger percentage of social interaction. Young or old, we like to play together. We learn how to socialize on the playground as children and practice socialization skills as adults at play.


The main plaza next to the playground has a historic timeline of the Cherry Creek Basin, river stone arranged in an artful manner, a map of the watershed and fun facts, such as the oldest know basket dates back 12,000 years. Inscriptions in the paving and climbing rocks along the Colorado Statehood Walk identify the state flower (Rocky Mountain columbine) and state bird (lark bunting). Lanceleaf cottonwoods were specified here. 'Largent' luminaires (Architectural Area Lighting) add a modern, sophisticated touch.
Photo: Robb Williamson


The Social World of Play
Centennial Center Park's design embodies the idea of a passage into the world of play. The playground is not visible from the parking lot as you enter, and vice versa. Once people leave their cars and walk through the gateway arch, they enter into a completely different world--one with outdoor rooms that are all about recreation, relaxation and being together.

Walls and trees surround the central playground complex, which gives it a protective feel. Whether sitting in a shelter or walking the loop walks through the meadows, parents and caregivers have clear sight lines and can see everyone. The inspirations for the shape and planes of the playground are the natural forms of Colorado's high desert and plains: mesas, cliffs, meandering creeks and valleys. A cliff face mostly surrounds the playground, creating a space much like a box canyon. Inside the canyon is a three-story tree house, a cliff slide, a spray ground and wetland. There are places to rest, to lie in the sun and to play actively on the cable climber and other play pieces.


The Vortex splash pad was engineered by Hines Inc. of Fort Collins and installed by CEM Sales & Service of Sheridan. A rubberized nonskid surface coating (Ultra Tuff) was employed. Design Concepts designed the rock shower (top right image), and Hines, Inc. engineered it. Water is pumped (150 gpm) through a pipe threaded through the sandstone boulder. The water flow for the splash pad, however, is 350 gpm. All water is recycled. Hines implemented a treatment system to meet public swimming pool health code standards.
Photo: Robb Williamson


One of the most popular areas is a drainage feature, part of the wild land/nature play area. This wetland of tall reeds and fallen logs winds into and along the edge of the playground, inviting children to stroll on the boardwalk, hop from one stepping stone to the next, or get wet and muddy.

Other areas for active play include a state-of-the-art 'rocks and ropes' course, a water-play area where kids can wade and jump in the jet-spray fountain, a sledding hill and additional climbing walls, one that features a map of Colorado. A grassy amphitheater and the meadow are close by.


The rope line, a 'Corocord' design climber with steel-reinforced cables, the faux boulders and log are from Universal Precast.


The social aspect of the playground extends to special rooms for kids and caregivers to relax and have a snack. One shelter, level with the playground, has WiFi and the feel of a coffee house, with a fireplace, skylights and built-in stone "couches" where visitors can commune or use their mobile devices. It provides the comfort and familiarity of an environment where they typically spend time working or socializing. A level above the "coffee house" shelter is a two-story plaza overlook with a covered viewing deck. From this bird's-eye view spreads out the playground, with the park and panorama of the mountains to the west. Across the plaza from the playground, the main shelter includes a picnic pavilion with a gas-fireplace warming area and comfortable restrooms.


The lower level shelter (right) has WiFi, a fireplace, skylights and built-in stone couches. Both shelters, designed by SlaterPaull Architects and built by Turner Construction, have steel roofs and open views to the splash pad
and playground.

Photos: Robb Williamson


Educational Elements
The park's design intends to convey the passage of time through the playground's nautilus shape arches, spirals and curves in the park's structures. Among the park's educational elements, the main plaza next to the playground showcases the historic timeline of the Cherry Creek Basin, including fun facts and a map of the watershed. Inscriptions in the paving and climbing rocks along the Colorado Statehood Walk identify the state flower (Rocky Mountain columbine) and state bird (lark bunting). The Viewfinder Walk offers history and trivia with such inquiries as, "Did you know the last wild buffalo was killed in Colorado in 1889?"


The Butte, the dominant hill for the park, was formed by soil excavated to carve out the grassy amphitheater. The sod for the amphitheater is bluegrass; the seat walls are Loveland buff sandstone.

Photo: Design Concepts


Challenges in Design and Construction
The site had some challenges, and we created others with the playground design, which was strongly three-dimensional. Layering everything from water play to vertical rock faces to a tree house in such close proximity required real skill on the part of the contractor to assemble the intricate layout and installation sequence. The park site was sloped, with access to Lone Tree Creek on the western border. To create a playground that felt safe, protected from the wind and multigenerational, we had to develop our own topography. We moved earth to create larger and more interesting geography, befitting the importance of this place. Immediate construction challenges occurred when the contractor hit bedrock, and when massive site flooding inundated the excavations. However, we still delivered the project on time and within the city council's approved budget, thanks to the excellent work of Turner Construction Company of Denver.


The sidewalks and 6-8 ton boulders are sandblasted and etched by Livingstone Custom Engraving. A backless 'Balance' bench (Forms+Surfaces) is in the background.
Photo: Robb Williamson


Design Concepts created documents for Phase II, now underway, which will add a linear arboretum and more parking to accommodate an even larger group of people to Centennial's new social hub.


The Colorado marker is red sandstone from Lyons, Colo. (Tribble Stone). Lyons, 20 miles east of Rocky Mountain National Park in north central Colorado, has three red sandstone mountains whose sandstone is much in demand, as it is considered the hardest sandstone in the world and has attractive hues of red. The marker depicts the state bird, the lark bunting, a cute, compact black bird with white highlights about the wings.
Photo: Robb Williamson


Design Team
Architect: SlaterPaull Architects, Denver
Artists: Chevo Studios, Denver: Entry Gateways
Integrated Design Studio, Gunnison, Colo.: Climbing Walls:
Contractor: Turner Construction Co., Greenwood Village, Colo.
Civil: Merrick Engineers, Aurora, Colo.
Electrical: The RMH Group, Lakewood, Colo.
Geotechnical: CTL Thompson, Denver
Structural: JVA, Inc., Boulder
Landscape Architects
Design Concepts CLA, Inc., Lafayette, Colo., Axel Bishop, Principal
Water Feature
Hines, Inc., Fort Collins, Colo.


The Colorado topographic climbing wall was fabricated by Integrated Design Studio (IDS) of Gunnison, Colorado from a proprietary thin-shell concrete composite. IDS also produced the concrete embankment slide, surrounded by poured-in-place safety surfacing (Surface America), the Coffee House climbing wall and the Butte Rock geological climber. The site fencing was built by Mefford, Zirbel & Associates.
Photo: Robb Williamson


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November 19, 2019, 10:15 pm PDT

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