How community input helped shape one of Carmel’s most popular parks
It’s not every day that K-6 students are invited to give input on a multi-million-dollar project. But Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation does things a bit differently. The organization finds value in gathering input from a diverse group of park users. After all, when it comes to a reimagined play space, who spends the most time enjoying the adventure of the playground equipment? Kids do.
In fall 2019, CCPR went right to the kid-centric audience who would be a major park user and they put on their listening ears. About 40 students sat cross-legged on the floor at College Wood Elementary. Their faces lit up and excitement grew as they listened to grand ideas of a future West Park. One with slides reaching to the skies and splash pads unlike any they’d ever seen. One of those students, Haashi Tirmiza, was able to recall the experience in detail – a testament to the impact it made.
“It felt amazing to be part of planning a new park,” Tirmiza shared. “You literally think of ideas for a place that a bunch of people are going to go to and enjoy.”
West Park is one of CCPR’s most unique properties. Until recently, it was the only property CCPR operated on the west side of Carmel. Ensuring that the park met the needs of the ever-growing community was a top priority and part of its 2020-2024 master plan. When funding for the project became available through the Clay Township Impact Program, the project completion was able to speed up dramatically. That brings us to 2022 when the park will reopen with a brand-new play experience.
Developing a Master Plan
In 2016, Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation presented an overarching master plan for West Park. The 211-page document is lengthy but jam-packed with overviews of amazing updates. The park’s development was broken into four main quadrants: The Groves (first phase completed in 2019), The Core, The Headwaters, and the 116th St. Corridor.
From there, CCPR moved to the building phase of the project and again public input was gathered for each of the main quadrants.
Gregg Calpino is a principal landscape architect at SmithGroup, the lead design firm on the West Park project. He shared the final product at West Park – playground and splash pad renovations – was largely driven by the input from the kids during master planning.
“Back in the original park master plan in 2016, we went to two elementary schools. So it was natural when we got to the building phase to do the same thing,” Calpino said. “They’re the users and they’re very informed. Engaging them to understand what they wanted really helped us push our boundaries.
What’s going in place now at West Park is totally different. It’s a place kids will be able to really lose themselves in play and exploration. And the cool thing is, this came directly from the kids. Kids wanted something totally different, and that’s what they’re getting.”
What does “something totally different” look like? When SmithGroup shared initial concepts with the kids during the master planning process, they showed playground and splash pad concepts separately. The response? Why not put them together.
“They didn’t want to choose between water and play,” Calpino said. “They wanted one play experience and they wanted a new level of adventure. They wanted towers and height and waterfalls altogether. The kids were able to see that and come to that idea. I give them a lot of credit. It’s always great when kids push you further.”
Gregg Calpino shares his favorite aspects of the West Park project.
Designing a Park Unlike Any Other
So, what exactly can you expect at the new and improved West Park?
Updated Playground and Splash Pad
Undoubtedly, the most exciting update at West Park is the brand-new playground and splash pad. The existing playground and splash pad structures were about 20 years old and nearing end of its useful life, as outlined in CCPR’s life cycle management plan.
The new play features take play to a whole new level – literally. Playground and splash pad experiences intertwine on multiple levels, inspired by one of the park’s most beloved features, Jill’s Hill.
Here’s how CCPR Assistant Director Kurtis Baumgartner describes the renovations, “Think of Jill’s Hill, the centerpiece of the park as the ‘mountain’ and the new features will be the ‘foothills.’ The water features will be engrained in ‘canyon.’ The design plays off imagination and incorporates features of the park. Completely different than anything I’ve seen. The architects knocked this one out of the park. I think our park visitors will really be blown away.”
Updated Parking + Connectivity
Historically, the east and west sides of West Park have not been connected. No longer! With an updated road through the park, visitors can now easily travel from one side of the park to the other.
Additionally, the park will have an expanded parking lot. After reopening Flowing Well and Carey Grove parks, it is clear that a renovated park equals an uptick in park visitation. The expanded parking lot will help accommodate this need.
- Trails: Explore the park enhancements on the new and improved trails! With updates to the shape of the parking lot and drive, the trail system will also be reworked. Look out for paved trails near 116th and the lagoon.
- Prairie Maze: The prairie maze, which has been part of the park since the very beginning, will be expanded.
- New and improved shelters and restrooms.
- Outdoor classroom.
The Reimagined West Park
The reimagined West Park reopened in the fall of 2022. And for those kiddos who had the opportunity to participate in the master planning process, it will be an opportunity for them to see their ideas come to life.
Written By: Jylian Riches
Jylian is the Marketing & Communications Director for Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation. She oversees the Department and has written the creative for numerous marketing publications and campaigns.