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Dust Devil Park, Phoenix--Engaging La Familia

J2 Engineering and Environmental Design, LLC

The Phoenix playground plaza incorporates shaded play areas, a splashpad and five 40-ft. dia. ramadas with solar panel arrays that offset the park's power consumption by 25 percent. The blue circular rooftops of the ramadas represent bodies of water with reeds emerging from them. Out of view (left) are the basketball courts, skatepark and two large grass areas. The playground plaza features various colored and textured concrete arranged in layered bands reflective of layers of sediment found along a river's edge. Large planting areas are filled with boulders for seating and trees for shade. Two main pathway loops offer children safe places to bike. Custom designed distance markers are sandblasted into the concrete at 1/10th mile increments, and bike racks (Forms+Surfaces ) are supplied. Exercise equipment stations (Greenfields) are placed around the perimeter of the main outer loop.

Dust Devil Park, named for the nearby school mascot, is located on the southeast corner of 107th Avenue and Camelback. Approximately 14 acres, constructed with a budget of $4.6 million dollars for the city of Phoenix, this park was once a fenced-off dirt lot full of weeds, trash, and asphalt remnants, with an unsightly open-earth irrigation channel paralleling the western boundary. Sharing two of its edges with the Villa de Paz Elementary School to the east and the Villa de Paz neighborhood to the south, Dust Devil Park has been transformed into a point of pride for the community.


These before images, looking east toward Villa de Paz Elementary School, show the field that became Dirt Devil Park, and the Roosevelt Irrigation District canal that parallels 107th Avenue. The road and canal created barriers for the neighborhoods on either side of the street. Before the new park design, children from both neighborhoods had to cross the street and the canal to get to their schools.

The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department actively involved the community in the park's planning, which included a core stakeholder group of members from the adjacent neighborhood and students from the elementary school. The result of their efforts was the initial master plan and program for the park. One of the goals of this group was to remove the boundaries between the future park and the surrounding community, and embrace a sense of partnering between the city, school and neighbors. To help achieve this goal one of the site's major constraints was addressed by developing a partnership with the Roosevelt Irrigation District (RID) to tile the existing open canal. The result of this effort ensured RID's facility maintenance requirements were achieved, while providing additional area for park improvements. Piping of the canal also removed an eyesore and potential safety hazard for the community.

The master plan called for the park to accommodate community parking, use of the school's field facilities for recreational leagues on the weekends and use of the picnic plazas for the leagues to gather and celebrate this sense of la familia. Pathways were developed throughout the park in measured exercise routes equipped with fitness stations, establishing physical fitness "laps" for park users. The pathways engage park patrons and link them to the restroom building, splash pad, playgrounds with shade structures, basketball court, skate plaza and picnic plazas.


California Skate Parks integrated a custom designed skate park within the contours of a large turf berm, providing amphitheater style seating. Ramps set into the berm create a transition from hardscape to a landscape of desert willow, Arizona 'Fan-West' ash, blue palo verde and thornless hybrid 'AZT' mesquite trees. The skate plaza has specialized equipment for tricks and grinding. The grinding benches also offer seating for riders waiting their turn on the quarter pipe.

A Boulder-Strewn Waterway
Water has always been a catalyst for the gathering and bonding of families and communities. The site, once an agricultural field, had associated water rights for Salt River Project (SRP) irrigation. The parks department decided to use available SRP water to flood irrigate turf play areas in the park. Traditionally, this flood irrigation water would have been piped. Instead, the design team looked to the nearby Agua Fria River to provide the aesthetic inspiration. A concrete trapezoid carries the water, gates adjust the flow, and pipes release it. This meandering, boulder-strewn waterway or "irrigation rivulet" is not only the backbone of the design but representative of our early ancestors to bring water to sustain a community and crops. The park's use of water for irrigation is built around supplying only what is needed to sustain plant life.


The splash pad (Vortex) follows the riparian theme of the park with a large frog spray hoop and water dumping flowers. A small river-like channel collects the run-off from the pad, which is divided into zones with spray equipment geared to younger and older children.

Planting Zones
The park has three distinct planting zones. A riparian core was designed around the rivulet. Native ash trees provide shade, and the flowering desert willows offer radiant pink colors and fill the air with fragrance. A mix of river cobble and sand enhances the feeling of this riparian zone as it traverses the site. The second zone, a mesquite bosque, fills the interior of the park, with each tree offering a unique sculpture of branching, shadow patterns and cooling shade. And lastly, the perimeter is surrounded with the distinctive green trunks of Arizona's state tree, the Sonoran Desert's blue palo verde with its brilliant yellow blooms. As the trees reach maturity, over 28 percent of the park will be under tree canopy, which exceeds the city's goal of 25 percent coverage.


Rock archways and old stumps connected by ropes let kids test their balance and strength.

Shade, Runoff and Terrain
Several large custom designed group shade and picnic ramadas (sheltered roofs) are integrated into the site, with blue circular rooftops representing the surface of a body of water. Brilliant green "reed" support columns break through this surface, a reminder about the life above and below the surface. When it rains, the runoff from each ramada is directed into "rain gardens" located at their base. Drainage runoff from the parking lots is directed into additional water harvesting basins used to provide supplemental water for the tree. A barren, flat field has been transformed into free flowing mounds that offer kids the simple joy of rolling down a hill, plus provide seating areas for spectators at the skate plaza and basketball courts. The site contouring also directs harvested rainwater to low-lying turf play areas that filter storm water and passively recharge the areas aquifers. An automatic sprinkler system only irrigates the side slopes. State-of-the-art irrigation controllers connect to soil moisture sensors around the site to monitor soil conditions and apply only the amount of water needed to maintain healthy vegetation. The irrigation system is also energy efficient through the use of variable frequency drive pumps.


This serpentine, boulder-strewn waterway or "irrigation rivulet" is the backbone of the park design, a modern representation of how our early ancestors channeled water to sustain settlements and crops. The design team, inspired by the nearby Agua Fria River, delivers water via a concrete trapezoidal channel. Gates adjust the flow, and pipes release it. The channel is for play, and to sustain plant life.

Power Generating Ramadas
Five 40-ft. diameter ramadas, fitted with photovoltaic panels, offset the park's power consumption by an estimated 25 percent. The water harvesting roofs emulate a water surface supported by bundled reed support columns. Because of the geometric complexity of the ramadas, and their compound angles at the areas of attachment, the ramadas were fabricated and erected off site first. Energy efficiency and sustainability of the project are also increased with the use of LED fixtures set in custom cast concrete "reed" pole bases.


The site was contoured and sculpted to create rolling hills and valleys, a user experience distinct from the typical flat parklands. Large open turf basins offer families areas to gather, run, play and picnic. The basins also effectively capture and filter the occasional stormwater. When the turf gets parched, the parks department uses available Salt River Project water to flood irrigate.

Pedestrian Focus
The integration of human need extends to every aspect of the park including design of the parking lot. The integration of tree planter islands that are spaced, not according to standards, but exceed that standard to create shaded areas that promotes pedestrian flow into the park. The minimum use of asphalt and the reduction by the city on the reliance on long-term use of fossil fuels to pave the parking lot resulted in parking bays constructed of concrete, sloped to strategically placed rain gardens within the parking lot. The concrete parking bays have a higher solar reflective index than asphalt; this, coupled with the additional shaded pavement helps reduce the heat island effect. The pedestrian focus of the parking lot design is reflected in the tree-lined pedestrian boulevard that guides and ushers park users through the lot and into the park. Raised speed tables, integrated into the pedestrian boulevard, alerts drivers to the pedestrians.

The city and the design team took great care to create spaces for celebrations and gatherings, while respecting the surrounding environment. The park design provides opportunities for people to learn about and respect the Sonoran Desert ecology.


The playground plaza is the heart of the park with its splashpad, small playground, large playground and ramadas. The custom shade fabric over the playgrounds was designed and added after construction had already begun. The construction manager was flexible in adjusting work sequences and areas to accommodate added amenities.

Much time was invested in the important goal of creating low maintenance, highly durable, sustainable features and finishes. The approach was to establish quality expectations, maintain a high level of conformance and give close attention to techniques and details. Extensive mock-ups were created for team consensus on quality expectations. Examples included various concrete hardscape treatments, including textures, aggregates, colors, shotcrete applications, caulks, paints and sealers. To implement the desired paint finish on the metal "reeds" (as is water reeds) canopy structures, a specialty paint consultant was brought in.


The picnic plaza features three large group ramadas with cafe tables. The concrete surfacing is punctuated by areas of stabilized granite. Rain gardens are located on the low side of the ramada roofs to capture rainwater runoff. The supporting columns are "reed bundles." The team created custom art relief concrete pole bases to reflect the riparian theme.

Ribbons of plaza paving are woven throughout the park at key interior locations, as well as at the edges of the park to welcome neighbors. The earth tone colors and aggregate textures of the plaza's concrete pay homage to the various layers of silt, sand and soil encountered along the Agua Fria's riverbed.

For longevity and durability, the team recognized the need for concrete surfaces, demanding higher standards than the industry norms regarding limiting cracking, and enforced best industry practices for hot weather installation. The skate plaza is a good example. To make the ride surface more appealing to the majority of skateboarders, you minimize the number of control joints. However, minimizing the control joints over a larger concrete area increases the likelihood of cracking, and future maintenance problems. With extra attention to concrete placement criteria, details and development of a custom concrete mix design, Dust Devil Skate Plaza contributed to the advancement of skate park construction, techniques which are likely to be implemented in future projects. The same level of detail was applied to other concrete elements, like the rivulet's shotcrete installation, and the custom cast-in-place ornamental light pole bases. The bases incorporate a custom self-consolidating mix design typical of precast manufacturing, which made constructing the detailed decorative relief "reed" designs feasible.


The basketball courts are coated with a colored epoxy for durability. From the courts you get an appreciation of the size of the larger ramadas (40-ft. dia.). The custom light pole bases (Spec Formliners, Inc.) have reed motifs cast into them in keeping with the riparian theme of the park. Areas to sit and gather are incorporated throughout the park, from formal benches to boulders and grassy hills. Trash receptacles and recycling receptacles are abundant.

Future Value
One of the project's key items of future value to the profession is that canal corridors do not have to remain unsightly obstructions or barriers to knitting together a community. Canals offer tremendous potential as positive and inviting civic and public use spaces. The valley is finally realizing this opportunity. Through open communication from the onset of the project with the utility owner, their maintenance requirements, setup areas, turning movements, etc., can be understood and balanced with implementing recreational amenities.


A riparian core of native ash trees, sand, river cobble and shrubs (such as giant Hesperaloe funifera, creosote bush (Larrea tridentate) and 'Brakelight' Hesperaloe parviflora) was designed around the rivulet. Wide pathways throughout the park, including here crossing the rivulet, link the neighborhood to the park amenities.

Social, Economic and Sustainable Development Considerations
This park serves as an example of creatively fusing artistic elements and sustainability with hard engineering. The functionality of these artistic elements and sustainable practices are apparent and tangible to the public. The solar panels and rain gardens draw attention because they are integrated into the unusual design aesthetic of the ramadas. By showcasing various riparian plants and their association with water, the park creates an atmosphere conducive to learning about and respecting the desert ecology. Even the simple act of providing containers for recycling throughout the park fosters environmental stewardship.

Scheduling Complexities
The completion of the 14-acre Dust Devil Park required over 71,950 man-hours and 30 subcontractors. Scheduling and coordination between trades and sequencing of construction was critical to hitting the most crucial deadlines, such as the turf grow-in window. A construction manager at-risk delivery method facilitated the teamwork necessary to overcome challenges encountered during construction, and to keep the project within a guaranteed maximum price. A flexible approach to project scheduling and work zones allowed the Phoenix Parks Department to add scope and still deliver the project on schedule. For instance, it was determined the specified precast light pole bases, some of which were located in the turf areas, had a longer lead-time than was available (22 weeks), so the team worked together to devise an alternate solution. Bases were cast-in-place up to grade level with the electrical conduit in place. Later, the visible portion of the base with a custom relief reed design would be cast-in-place with minimal turf disturbance.

The team had the challenge to tile Roosevelt Irrigation District's (RID) substantial irrigation canal, located along the west edge of the park. The canal carries large volumes of water to agricultural users downstream and demands maintaining a continuous flow, except for a brief winter shut down. The tile work had to occur during the shut down, which was in advance of the park design completion. The team fast-tracked this work, established a separate budget which the city and used alternate delivery contracting methods. Collaborative coordination of the design and construction team, as well as the city and the irrigation district, were instrumental in the success of this portion of the project.


The playground has a variety of equipment from Fibar, Miracle and UPC Parks that is inclusive to different ages and abilities. If you've ever been to Phoenix, you know the absolute necessity for shade from the three digit temperatures. Custom poles ("reeds") support the fabric sail shades that covers both play areas. The riparian theme is strengthened by larger-than-life turtle and frog climbers.

Successful Spaces

William Whyte, author of The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980), identified several key elements that help create successful spaces: sitting, sun, trees, wind, water, food, street, and a term he coined, "triangulation." Dust Devil Park integrates each of these elements to create a successful urban space: various seating styles and areas; solar panels to capture energy from the relentless Arizona sun; filtered sunlight through groves of trees; interaction with water; sharing of meals under ramadas; linking neighborhoods through plazas and walkways; and finally "triangulation," creating points of interest--playgrounds, splash pad, skate plaza, basketball courts, artistic ramadas and custom light poles.

The city's goals have been met with new facilities designed with sustainability and longevity in mind, balanced with a unique aesthetic. The city receives regular complements about the beauty and diversity of experiences this space provides. Neighbors have taken ownership of Dust Devil Park and embrace it as their own, which will help to sustain it into the future.

Project Team
J2 Engineering and Environmental Design, LLC (J2) was the prime consultant for the project, providing all civil and drainage engineering, landscape architecture, irrigation design and storm water pollution prevention. J2 was responsible for master plan refinement, city design approval and permits, creation of the construction documents and post-design construction administration. The design and construction budget of $5,112,103 was met.

Consulting Team
City of Phoenix: Owner
Roosevelt Irrigation District (RID): adjacent property owner
Stantec: RID engineer for tiling of canal
Wright Engineering: electrical engineering
Aztec: survey and utility locating
JG Engineering: structural engineering
RAMM: geotechnical engineering
Foresite Design and Construction: general contractor
California Skate Parks: Skate Plaza

Anti-graffiti Coating: Tamms AG 400-Euclid Chemical Company
Alfalfa Valves: Fresno Valves
Asphalt: Vulcan Materials
Concrete: Calportland; Cemex; Hanson
Concrete Colorant: BASF RHEOColor
Concrete Patch: Ardex; Thoro
Concrete Valve Boxes: Oldcastle Precast
Courts, Post-Tension: Suncoast Post-Tension LP
Decomposed Granite: Granite Express: 1/4 " minus and 1/2 " screened ('Tanner Gold'); 2' to 4' pit run
boulders; 2.5" minus rounded rock
Decomposed Granite Stablizer: Soiltac by Soilworks
Drinking Fountains: Most Dependable Fountains
Electrical Equipment: Aurora Inverter, Cem-Tec Corporation; Christy Boxes; GE Lighting; HE Williams; Kyocera Solar panels; Milbank; Philips; Siemens; TE Connectivity; TriTec; Tyco; Visionaire; Wild West
Epoxy Adhesive: 3M Scotch-Weld
Epoxy Filler: PPG Amercoat
Grout: Border Construction Specialties; Cemex
HDPE Pipe: ADS, Inc.
Irrigation Equipment: Bowsmith Emitters; BPDI Guardshack; Calsense Controller; Carson Valve Boxes; Christy ID Tag; Cresline Pipe; Crispin Air Release; Dayton Pump Start Relays; Dri-Splice Wire Connectors; Griswold Controls; Harco fittings; IPS Weld-on; Jain API; Lasco Fittings; Munro Pumps ; Nibco; Paige Copper; Rainbird Valves, Quick Couplers; Sigma; Spears; Toro Rotors; Turfgro Geotextile; Tyton; Wilkins
Irrigation Gates: Fullerform
Light Pole Base Formliners: Spec Formliners, Inc.
Manholes: Olson Precast
Masonry: HB Hohmann and Barnard-wire reinforcing, control joint; Superlite Block Grout; Superlite
Block Mortar; Western Block Company
Paint: Ameron International; PPG Industries; TIGER Drylac
Plants: Arid Zone Trees; Arizona Seed Technology (common Bermuda seed); Arizona Wholesale Nursery; Mazatzal Tree Farm; Mountain States Wholesale Nursery; Sunwest Golf and Reclamation
Playground Equipment: Fibar; Miracle; UPC Parks
Preemergent Herbicide: Surflan
Reinforced Concrete Pipe: Hanson
Reinforced Concrete Pipe Gaskets: J-K Polysource, Inc.
Reinforcing Steel: Powers Steel and Wire
Restrooms, Prefab: Public Restroom Company
Sealants: BASF Sonolastic; ConSeal; Sikaflex; WR Meadows Vocomp
Shade Sails, Playground: Ultimate Shade Alternatives
Shotcrete: Cemex
Signs: Park Regulation/Building Address/Trail Mileage Markers: Sierra Signs and Service, Inc. Site Furnishings: Forms and Surfaces: bike rack; Greenfields: fitness equipment; Most Dependable Fountains: drinking fountain; PW Athletic: bbq grill, basketball equipment; Wabash Valley: benches, cafe tables; Webcoat: picnic tables, trash, recycling
Soil Amendments: Best Fertilizer
Hydro Agri: Western Organics
Splashpad Equipment: Vortex
Structural Steel: Milling Machinery, Inc.
Termite Treatment: Bayer Environmental Science
Tot-Lot Fencing: 4G Steel Erectors, Inc.
Truncated Domes: Tekway 'Green'
Waterline Equipment: American Ductile Iron Pipe; American Flow Control; PowerSeal pipeline Products; Pro Select covers and frames; Service Wire Co.; Sigma joints; Star pipe products; Trumbull tape; Tyler/Union; Wilkins
Waterstops: Greenstreak

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October 15, 2019, 10:32 pm PDT

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