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The Park Above Oso Creek: Norman Murray Community and Senior Center

RJM Design Group, Inc.

Wood deck bridges (Excel Bridge) with Corten-steel framing take path walkers across the rocky gullies at the Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center in Mission Viejo, Calif. (south Orange County).
Photo by Guy Nelson
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The Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center in Mission Viejo, Calif. (south Orange County) opened its doors May 1, 1989 to serve a population in this master planned community that then had about 71,000 residents. Since that time, the population of Mission Viejo has grown to almost 100,000. The center had become undersized and dated. The center primarily focused on senior services, but needed to offer services for the entire community. In March 2000, city leaders expressed the need to expand the center and its community programs.

The concrete bollards (Wausau Tile) give an interesting symmetry to the plaza entrance.
Top Photo By RJM DESIGN - Bottom Photo by Guy Nelson

Community Outreach
A design task force was formed and numerous workshops held. The task force toured other facilities and surveys were sent out to various groups soliciting their input. The project was brought before the city's community services commission numerous times. Flyers were mailed to the community and distributed in all city facilities, plus the project was advertised on the city's local television channel and in local newspapers. The public was invited to give input numerous times during the five years of planning. The design task force then prepared a status report with all of the findings and recommendations. This document was used to prepare a project master plan, which was reviewed by the various groups and modified numerous times.

The Expansion
The result of this initiative was a 13,500 sq. ft. expansion of the center, more than doubling the original 11,000 sq. ft. The building was refurbished and the entire center updated with the latest audio and video equipment. All of these improvements were completed while the center remained open to the public.

The project also included significant improvements to the site and surrounding park. Some of these improvements included: two new soccer fields, an expanded parking lot, outdoor seating areas, scenic walkways, a Veterans Memorial Wall, and a new children's playground. All of the improvements were designed using "green" construction techniques whenever possible.

A Veterans Plaza with commemorative plaques for the major U.S. wars is just across from the entrance plaza.
Photo by Guy Nelson

Coincidentally, the opening of the new center coincided with the city's 20th anniversary, which gave the city an ideal opportunity to introduce the new facility to the community. The city hosted a weeklong celebration with daily events that showcased the new amenities in and outside the center.

Now with the expansion complete, the Norman Murray Community and Senior Center is a central location in the city where anyone of any age can go and connect to the community and participate in a variety of events and classes, or just sit and enjoy the tranquil surroundings.

The Center was previously focused on seniors, but now the center and park serve all ages. The playground, of course, is a nice addition for the nearby residents with children. The playground sits on bluff just below the Center. Spectraturf poured-in-place rubber surfacing protects the young ones and Miracle Recreation play equipment provides the fun.
Top Photo by Guy Nelson - Bottom Photo by RJM DESIGN

Environmentally-Friendly Components/Enhancements
Because the center is located above Oso Creek, which flows directly into the ocean, the city wanted to make sure that urban site runoff was properly treated. Stormwater is directed into bioswales that absorb pollutants as the water flows through them. These bioswales are focal points of the landscape and draw attention.

The landscape contains a collection of drought-responsive grasses and succulents. The landscape was also strategically designed so that turf was only placed where the public will use it.

The irrigation system was designed to use reclaimed water and is connected to the city's centralized irrigation system, which is directed by the local weather station data and driven by evapotranspiration calculations. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques are also used to reduce the need for fertilizers, which have the potential to be washed into the creek. Much of the site furniture--tables, chairs, benches, and interior carpet--are made from recycled products. Recycled glass was also used for some of the exterior lighting fixtures.

The "oso" in the creek and trail name is "bear" in Spanish. The bear motif is realized in several places. There's a "little bear" seating area with a circular plaza of sawtooth flagstone and mosaic art, a momma and baby bear traveling near the bridge that crosses the creek/bioswale, and bear paw prints on masonry columns.
Photos by Guy Nelson

The entire building was retrofitted with energy-efficient in lighting, motion sensors and the HVAC system. The building design maximized natural lighting with skylights. A recycling program includes recycling containers and a used-battery-drop-off location. The center also distributes literature about the city's environmental programs.

The center is also designated as the main hub for the city's future "Go Local" small bus pilot program, an initiative to get more motorists to use the new local bus system.

The sign under the large jacaranda announces the vehicular entrance to the center.

Value Engineering
The city wanted to improve the look of the center and ensure the expansion and existing building architecture were complementary. Considerable care was given to minimizing costs. Value engineering gave particular attention to alternative designs, and developing systems that created high efficiency with regard to energy consumption and physical maintenance. The project budget was $15,700,000, which included the expansion, exterior park improvements and refurbishing the building. The project funded came from the city's general fund, park development fees, community development block grant funds, a $3 million state urban parks grant, and the Mission Viejo Charity Community Foundation.

Trail map/interpretive panels point the way and distance along the park's pathways, which connect with the Civic Center, library, World Cup Soccer Center and various recreational centers and community shopping. There are plenty of benches to relax and enjoy the nature along the way.

The innovative design saved the city thousands of dollars in labor costs. There were also a number of days that local residents volunteered to plant thousands of plants provided by the city throughout the park planting zones.

Various mosaic-tile art works are on display on the bluff side of Oso Creek Trail. The larger mosaic, (second photo from bottom) by Dru Corttrell, is on a lower trail. A whimsical touch is added with statuary of girls in playful gymnastic poses (bottom).
Photos by Guy Nelson - Statue Photo by RJM DESIGN

A Community Gathering Place
Prior to the center's expansion, the facility did not have the capacity for large indoor or outdoor events, or to attract interest from a wide variety of age groups. The center now is a central gathering place where all age groups come to enjoy indoor and outdoor activities, participate in city events and programs and establish a connection to the community.

The Creek Side Terrace sits above the trail. The water feature runs down the rock creek (bioswale) and under the bridge. Stormwater is directed into the rocky, vegetated bioswales. The bioswales are focal points in the landscape and meant to draw attention. Photos by Guy Nelson

New Public Amenities

  • The new 4,700 sq. ft. main event room seats over 530 people. There's a stage and kitchen to accommodate events, concerts and parties.
  • New meeting rooms are available for groups, homeowner associations and clubs.
  • The center is equipped with the latest in audio and video equipment.
  • The new indoor lobby areas display artwork.
  • Two new soccer fields encompass over seven acres of turf area (the "Village Green") for outdoor functions.
  • The new Veterans Plaza is perfect for traditional events.
  • Paths lead along the creek, with plenty of benches to relax and enjoy the nature. All the outdoor areas connect to Oso Creek trails, the Civic Center, library, World Cup Soccer Center and various recreational centers and community shopping.
  • The new children's playground is great for families, as are the new walkways, sitting areas, water features, gardens and exterior artwork.
    The center has significantly expanded its community offerings:
  • Increased after-school youth programming, including expansion of "Kids Factory."
  • Presentation of cultural and arts performances, films, dances, parties and other social activities for all ages.
  • Arts and crafts, musical and theatrical workshops are now available.
  • Graduation ceremonies, banquets and other lifestyle events are popular.
  • Intergenerational activities are promoted, such as senior volunteers mentoring youths, hiring seniors part-time to supervise youth activities and providing opportunities for young people to volunteer in senior citizen activities.

Along the bluff side of Oso Creek Trail, just a short walk from the Center, is outdoor gym equipment. These multiple resistance-exercise stations (Greenfields Outdoor Fitness) are meant for all age. Two soccer fields (bermuda hybrid sod with perennial ryegrass overseed) border the trail.

Founded in 1987, RJM Design Group, Inc. is a planning and landscape architecture firm with a talented team of planners, architects, landscape architects, and LEED accredited professionals. The firm believes quality design is the physical expression of fundamentally sound ideas, infused with imagination and creativity. The firm's continued success is measured by long-standing client relationships and reputation for service.

Larry Ryan is one of the founding principals. During his twenty-eight years of experience, Mr. Ryan has been involved with a wide variety of planning and landscape architectural projects that range from master planned communities to neighborhood parks. His project involvement encompasses all phases of development, including concept formulation, design development, agency processing, and construction implementation. Mr. Ryan's approach to project management is based upon the firm's commitment to provide all clients with the highest quality of service possible.

Keith Rattay
Keith Rattay is a licensed California landscape architect and has been employed by the city of Mission Viejo for over 14 years. Keith was educated at Purdue University in West Lafayette Indiana. Keith currently serves as the city's landscape architect and the director of public services. He is responsible for the design of parks, streets, and community facilities. Keith manages streets, public buildings, landscape, animal services, police services and emergency services. He recently completed a citywide branding effort for literature, marketing and design elements throughout the community.

The cabana seating on the Orchard Terrace has digital art. Much of the site furniture--tables, chairs, benches, and interior carpet--are made from recycled products. Recycled glass was also used for some of the exterior lighting fixtures.
Photos by G
uy Nelson

Project Team
City of Mission Viejo, Calif.

Kelly Doyle, Director of Community and Recreational Services
Keith Rattay, Director of Public Services
David Cendejas, Project Manager

Landscape Architect
RJM Design Group, Inc., San Juan Capistrano
Larry Ryan

Architect + Associates, Newport Beach, Calif.
Robert Coffee, Reggie Wilson, Jean Stolzman

Construction Manager
Kenneth Friess & Associates, San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
Ken Friess

Civil Engineer
MCE Consultants, Ladera Ranch, Calif.
Rich Moore, Tom Carcelli

Douglas Barnhart, Inc., San Diego


  • Bridges: Excel Bridge
  • Furniture, metal: Innovative Design
  • Lighting: Louis Poulson, Lumex
  • Playground Equipment: Miracle Recreation
  • Pottery: Old Town Fiberglass
  • Soldura(TM) & recycled furniture: Outdoor Design Studio
  • QuickCrete, trash & hot ash receptacles: Spectraturf (poured-in-place rubber surfacing)
  • Sawtooth flagstone paving, rocks/boulders: Valley Building Materials

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November 18, 2019, 11:13 am PDT

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