A Community Affair

Located just east of Des Moines, Iowa, Pleasant Hill is a growing suburban community of nearly 7,000 residents. Over the past ten years, the community has experienced a growth rate of nearly 40 percent. This rise in population, coupled with increased participation in outdoor recreation programs, created a need for additional facilities in order for the city to continue providing the same level of recreation services to the community.

Early discussions of a new outdoor recreation complex among various leagues, organizations and city government representatives resulted in Pleasant Hill’s purchasing approximately 103 acres of land on the eastern edge of the city’s corporate boundary. Prior to the land purchase, the city established an agreement with the Southeast Polk School District to sell 40 acres of the land for construction of a new high school to accommodate increasing enrollment. The remaining 60 acres were identified as the site for the future Pleasant Hill Sports Complex. In May 2006, the city retained the services of RDG Planning & Design–a national, multi-disciplinary firm specializing in recreation, sports and athletic facilities design–to facilitate a public- and user-group input process, to identify community recreation needs, and to develop a comprehensive program and master plan for the complex.

Gathering Input

RDG began working with city staff to assemble a steering committee for the project. This committee included representatives from the Pleasant Hill and Four Mile Little League organizations, the Pleasant Hill Soccer Club, the Southeast Polk School District, Little League International, the Pleasant Hill Park and Rec Commission, the Planning and Zoning Commission, city council, and several public officials from nearby communities. The core values and guiding principles set forth by the committee provided a clear foundation for consistent decision-making throughout the design process:

· Appropriate natural resource stewardship

· Community sense of place

· Multi-generational recreation opportunities

· Year-round recreational opportunities

· Safe and accessible facilities

· Multi-purpose facilities

· Quality facilities

RDG then interviewed representatives from several select organizations, and facilitated public forum input meetings from a cross section of individuals. These interviews and input meetings provided the design team with an understanding of the city’s current recreation programs and facilities, as well as insight to possible deficiencies. Additionally, those approaches allowed the public an opportunity to voice opinions on the facilities of the new complex.

Working With The Environment

The existing conditions of the 60-acre site presented several challenges and opportunities for the design team. The former agricultural field is directly adjacent to Spring Creek, and portions of the site are located within the 100-year flood plain and floodway, limiting the land area that can be developed along the site’s west edge. A large area of hickory, oak, maple and cedar trees parallels Spring Creek on either bank. A decision was made early in the design process, based on the core value for appropriate natural resource management, to preserve the trees along the west edge to the greatest extent possible. This provided a mature woodland buffer for the complex, but limited the land available for development of recreation fields. The existing site also had approximately 60 feet of grade change from the high point adjacent to the new high school to the low point at Spring Creek, presenting a unique challenge as recreation fields require large land areas of relatively flat ground. The 60 feet of grade change were seen as an opportunity by the design team to develop the complex into several terraces with sports fields on each terrace and hillside seating opportunities for spectators.

A Bigger Picture

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