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Design panel backs Barton Springs Master Plan

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Despite opposition in some quarters, the Design Commission has taken a liking to the Barton Springs Master Plan, heaping praise upon the design elements in the proposed plan for the pool and its grounds.

Consultant Al Godfrey made his 15-minute pitch to the Design Commission this week and found a much more receptive audience than the one at the Parks Board two weeks ago. The purpose of the plan, he told the commission, was to balance the fragile nature of the pool with the need to accommodate both swimmers and salamanders.

Issues that would be of interest to groups like the Parks Board – the removal of the gravel bar to promote stream flow; the hydrodynamic modeling that will lead to future long-term dam repairs; and the potential flow regimen of Eliza Springs to the pool – are critical but less important to the Design Commission and its mission.

From a design standpoint, there is much to like about some of the subtle improvements that Godfrey and partner Laurie Limbacher, with their team of experts, are proposing for the pool if, and when, funding becomes available.

Commissioner Phil Reed said he had downloaded and reviewed the full plan.

“I thought it was amazing,” Reed said. “You have taken an enormous amount of information and thought and complex concepts and wrapped it into this document with clarity and elegance. And so, consequently, I strongly support the adoption of the plan by this commission.”

A significant number of design elements were in the pool plan. For instance, Eliza Springs and its amphitheater have been ignored for decades. Godfrey and Limbacher are proposing a full restoration, pulling off concrete additions to take the amphitheater back to its original 1903 design.

They also want to increase the flow into the pool and add observation decks for the small waterfall that results from the springs flowing back into Barton Springs.

The goal would be to make the history and the science of the area more accessible to those who use the park, Limbacher told the commissioners.

They also have proposed uncovering the original paving up to the pool and possibly adding interpretive graphics that would explain the historic nature of the pool.

Inside the pool area, design recommendations are to reconfigure the planting beds with native plants and create a more user-friendly downstream area for pool users, replacing the studded concrete and rock on the banks with stonework that would mimic rock strata and make the area easier to use.

Recommendations also include upgrading the changing areas and putting a greater emphasis on the Sheffield Education Center. Limbacher and Godfrey described the education area as “undernourished.” The ticket area would be reworking to relieve summer-time bottlenecks and put ticket-takers in the shade, Godfrey said.

On the south side of the pool, the consultants also proposed a gentle trail into the trees that could be used as a footpath for park visitors.

Because of the short timeline intended to get the plan to Council on June 18, the Design Commission was submitting its letter of support almost immediately. Commissioners universally praised the design work on the plan.

Joan Hyde, a landscape architect and frequent pool user, questioned whether some slight terracing could make more of the steep lawn usable for visitors. Eleanor McKinney strongly suggested support of an operating budget to maintain any improvements that might be made to the pool. And Juan Cotera suggested that the study eventually be extended past the park to Auditorium Shores.

Given the fact the plan still lacks funding, Chair Girard Kinney urged the consultants to bring a cross-section of stakeholders together – not just people who wanted to save the salamander or swimmers who wanted to keep the water clean – to form one group with the purpose of supporting funding for the project.

No doubt, with so many stakeholders, the plan will continue to change as the pool plan is funded and implemented, Kinney said.

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