The 104-acre Rockwell Park was the first large property set aside for recreational development in Bristol, Conn. Bristol (pop. 60,062), located in the central area of the state about 20 miles southwest of Harford, is home to ESPN studios, Lake Compounce, the “oldest continuously-operating amusement park in North America” (founded 1846) and the Bristol Mum Festival, celebrating its 51st year. The recreational land was gift to the city in 1914 from entrepreneur and businessman Albert Rockwell. Through a subsequent gift, Mrs. Rockwell added 15 more acres to the park, specifying that bequest remain solely for a children’s playground.
The new west park entry involved restoration of the WWI Veterans Memorial Monument. The park was originally designed by Boston landscape architect Sheffield Arnold, with park construction completed between 1914 and 1920.
The park was originally designed by Boston landscape architect Sheffield Arnold, and constructed from 1914 to 1920. The park became one of the state’s premier recreational destinations, and was included on the National Register of Historic Places in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, the park became a shell of its former self, falling into disrepair and a target
Rock climber boulders (Landscape Structures) and a play structure for 2-5 year olds (Colombia Cascade) highlight this section of the playground. Toy elements like GameTime’s ‘Lil Wum’ climber, a bug-like apparatus, and ‘Saddlemates’ (little sit-on spring toys) offer other interest for the younger kids.
In 2004 the city finally commissioned a master plan to renovate the developed sections of Rockwell Park, while leaving the forested area alone. The city established a $7 million project budget, and a three-phase plan to be complete in four years. All elements of the master plan are now complete.
The Design Team and Challenges
Milone & MacBroom, Inc. (MMI), founded in 1984, is a multidisciplinary firm providing landscape architecture, engineering (civil, water resource, traffic and transportation), planning, environmental services and surveying. As one of the largest such design and engineering firms in New England, MMI has designed and provided construction oversight on over $100 million in park and recreation projects. Associate David Dickson, RLA, and Jason Williams, RLA led the MMI design team, with project direction by Vincent McDermott, FASLA, AICP, vice president. Architectural design was by Michael Stein, R.A., LEED AP and Mark Troost of Stein/Troost Architects. Electrical engineering and lighting design was by Robert Banning, P.E. (Silver/Petrucelli + Associates). Throughout the project MMI worked closely with Edward Swicklas, superintendent of parks and recreation, the Bristol city staff, including city planner Alan Weiner, AICP, assistant city engineer Raymond Rogozinski, P.E., Roger Rousseau, purchasing agent and the Bristol Park Board.
The park’s new roundabout at the western entrance is the centerpiece of the improved vehicular circulation. The stone gateway pillars reflect the character of the decorative columns that were part of the original park design.
The most difficult challenges were environmental permitting (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) for the wetland restoration and lagoon work, plus bridge reconstruction work for the Pequabuck River and the stabilization of the historic stone obelisk foundations. In addition to the local permits (site plan review and inland wetlands), the project also required a CDOT State Traffic Commission Certificate for expansion of the
The residents took a keen interest in the project plans and flocked to the public presentations to make suggestions, mostly focusing on not changing the character of the park. Because the park is on the National Register of Historic Places, rehabilitation and renovations required compliance with U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) standards. All work was coordinated with the Connecticut Department of Culture and Tourism, which is responsible for oversight on behalf of the DOI. MMI provided construction observation and oversight on a weekly basis, while
Mr. Swicklas had the critical daily task of
observation and coordination with the contractor
and their subcontractors.
Phase II renovations included the popular spray park and picnic pavilions. Other phase II additions (not pictured) were lighted volleyball courts, Little League field renovations (event lighting and scoreboard), a renovated youth baseball field, plus court games, landscaping, lighting and sidewalk and parking improvements.
Phase 1: Phase one was devoted to restoring vehicle and pedestrian circulation: enhancing the park entrance; reconstruction of the park drive and parking; upgrades to the storm drainage (including water quality features) and related utility infrastructure; creating new sidewalks to reduce pedestrian and vehicle conflicts; and developing way finding. A new roundabout with ornamental stonewalls, flag pole and landscaping became the centerpiece. Period lighting was reintroduced to the park, and decaying shade trees replaced. The new entry involved restoration of the war memorial and introduction of stone gateway pillars.
Phase 2: Mrs. Rockwell’s Playground was reconstructed in phase two to meet present recreational requirements: new play structures; safety surfacing; a spray park; lighted volleyball courts; new event lighting and scoreboard for Little League field; two picnic pavilions; court games; renovated youth baseball field; landscaping, lighting and sidewalk and parking improvements. The playground’s signature element the 18,000 square-foot cast-in-place concrete skate park with a nine-foot deep bowl designed to host competitive events.
The signature element of the playground is the 18,000 sq. ft. cast-in-place concrete skate park, an urban plaza with a nine-foot deep bowl designed to host competitive events.
Phase 3: The historic lagoon had years ago been half-filled in and used for a play field. The remaining half of the lagoon for swimming was drained because of poor water quality. The “lagoon” reverted to a wetland with invasive species. Phase 3 focused on lagoon restoration, the design striking a balance between open water and improving the diversity of the remaining wetland. The renovated water feature, aerated to maintain water quality, is surrounded by an amphitheater and promenade, including the ability to flood the space for winter skating. The reconstructed wetland was designed to demonstrate appropriate techniques for creating a sustainable wetland. The elevated boardwalk through the reconstructed wetland provides opportunities for outdoor education.
The Spacenet (Landscape Structures) provides more challenging play for the older kids.
The bridge over the Pequabuck River and the large stone obelisks were reconstructed. A new pedestrian promenade was designed to link the main park to the lagoon area. The tree-lined promenade has unit pavers, with period-style lighting and site furnishings. A new curved stonewall retains the western end of the open body of water. Four of the historic stone buildings on the National Registry were reconstructed and/or restored. One of the hallmark features of all the original buildings, walls and structures in the park is the river cobble fašades for the new walls and related structures, all the cobbles excavated on site.
The amphitheater seating overlooks a performance area used in the summer; in winter, the area becomes an ice rink.
A Refreshed Park
Rockwell Park is now visited by thousands of people each week and is once again a major destination. In 2011 the Connecticut ASLA Chapter awarded Milone & MacBroom a Design Merit Award for the revitalization of Rockwell Park.
The firm honored the city with framed images of the artwork that comprised the graphic submission for the award. MMI Associate David Dickson, RLA, and MMI President John Milone, P.E., presented the gift to Mayor Arthur Ward and Mr. Swicklas at a meeting of the Bristol City Council.
It was necessary to stabilize the foundations of the historic stone obelisks. The park was included in the National Register of Historic Places in the late 1980s.
Benches: Dumor Site Furnishings
Bike Racks: P.W. Athletic Mfg. Co., Mesa, Ariz.
Colorized Concrete Sidewalks and Skatepark Admixture Color:
L. M. Scofield Co., Rutherford, New Jersey
Play Structures: Colombia Cascade Co.
GameTime: Lil Wum Climber and Saddlemates (little cars, duck)
Landscape Structures Inc.: Rock Climbers and Spacenet
Fencing at Spraypark: Colombia Cascade Co.
Spring City Electrical Manufacturing Co., Spring City, Penn.
Hubbell Lighting, Inc. (athletic fields), Greenville, S.C.
Pavilions: Classic Recreation
Spray Park: Fountain People Inc., Water Odyssey
Trash Receptacle: Dumor Site Furnishings