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City of Indianapolis overcomes environmental challenges to restore a community’s beloved public park
Located on the southeast side of Indianapolis, Indiana, Sandorf Park has been part of the greater Indianapolis community since 1959. Originally just an open field, over the years, facilities have been added to the park, such as a playground, basketball and tennis courts, and parking. In 1968, a school was added adjacent to the park. Since then, the park served both the school’s students and the local community, but over time, these facilities degraded, and an update to the site was greatly needed.
Three years ago, a Sandorf Park renovation was planned and designed with the needed permissions, donations and funding secured for the project. “Sandorf Park has been an Indy Parks [and Recreation] property for almost 70 years; however, we discovered during the design process that the site was, in the 1930s, an unregulated dump and that there were some significant environmental challenges that would need to be addressed in order for Sandorf to remain a public park,” says Ryan Cambridge, Browning Day’s planning practice leader and senior associate.
Before any work could be done, these site issues needed to be addressed and funding secured to correct them. “The city contacted the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and asked for help on how to properly address the regulated waste and still provide adequate environmental controls to safely reconstruct the park. IDEM provided guidance and expertise on cleanup, remediation and closure of the site that successfully combined environmental protection objectives with the park needs,” says an IDEM spokesperson. The unanticipated remediation added not only additional costs to the project, but also additional time, delaying the overall park renovation by two years.
A Revised Plan
“Browning Day worked with the city of Indianapolis and IDEM to revise the plan for the park, so that the design of the park met the standards set forth by IDEM for remediating a former landfill site while still serving as a great neighborhood park. Certain turf and landscape areas of the park were redesigned, so that the waste material could be removed and replaced with clean soil. In addition, the design of the foundation and drainage systems for the various sports and play areas were redesigned to safely ‘cap’ any waste material beneath them,” says Cambridge.
In April 2020, the site remediation began, and by August, the site work was completed. From September to October, the playground and play court were installed. On November 10, 2020, Sandorf Park officially opened to the public with a community ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“A lot of great people stepped up to invest in Sandorf Park, and we are so grateful. Our team never stopped believing in this park and what it could be. Partnerships really do make a difference, and Sandorf Park is a great example of those efforts,” says Andre T. Denman, City of Indianapolis principal park planner and greenways manager.
“With 212 parks, 153 miles of trails, and the honor of serving more than 8 million people annually, we are thrilled to show off our newest playground, our newest place for children to explore and, hopefully, a new place for this community to be proud of,” says Linda Broadfoot, director of Indy Parks and Recreation. “This project is a great example of state and local government working together for the betterment of a community. Sandorf Park is an example of a solid waste site that was successfully cleaned up and returned to productive use.”
A New Recreational Experience
“Sandorf Park embraces the principles of universal design, with the goal of providing unique recreational experiences for people of all ages and all abilities. The park includes a combination of active recreation elements, such as a basketball court, walking paths, an outdoor adventure course and a large open play field. Sandorf Park is home to several firsts for Indianapolis, which include the city’s first bicycle pump track and first enclosed ‘multisport’ court, where visitors can play basketball, futsal, pickleball or volleyball,” says Cambridge.
The newly opened Sandorf Park features a state-of-the-art play area with amenities for everyone. “This colorful play space now features: a musical sensory spinner; 20-foot fully accessible play structure; a color-coated Junior NBA basketball court with new goals; a triple threat pump track for skateboarding and riding bikes; a youth fitness challenge course with exercise equipment; the state’s first multiuse game area (MUGA) court, an innovative feature allowing for basketball, futsal, volleyball, pickleball; and a playground zone with eight walkways, a synthetic turf and a rubberized safety surface,” says Cambridge.
Cambridge adds, “Sandorf Park is also home to one of the largest play structures in the city. Tucked in between the large existing trees, the Americans with Disabilities Act accessible playground features both active and sensory-based play elements, including one structure designed specifically for children on the autism spectrum. A new picnic shelter, complete with picnic tables and charcoal [barbeque] grills, was also added adjacent to the playground and the turf play mounds. To the east, a multipurpose field large enough for a full-size soccer field was created.”
Beyond play features, “significant improvements were made to both parking lots,” including replacing the lighting with high-efficiency fixtures in the southern lot, which is shared with the school, says Cambridge. “The park provides a variety of site furnishings, including benches/seating areas, picnic tables, a large picnic shelter, waste receptacles, bike racks and a water fountain.” The complete project costs were a little more than $5 million and includes the site remediation, tree removal, design and engineering costs.
For local residents Paula and Richard Butterfield, Sandorf Park is an asset to the community. “We think the park will impact the community in a tremendous way,” says Richard Butterfield. “The children in the community will be able to use their imagination to explore the variety of amenities the park has to offer.”
And for the Butterfields’ 9-year-old son, Ricky, the park is “amazing!” He believes the park “will be good...because kids of all ages can find something fun to do. It’s great for exercising, and there is plenty of room to run around.”
The site also serves students from the school directly adjacent to the park. The school is a pre-K to eighth grade Indy Public School (IPS) SUPER School, an acronym that stands for students understanding through powerful and energetic routines. An action-based school, students are engaged in kinesthetic learning and are encouraged to keep moving throughout the school day. The school provides daily physical education, fitness and brain breaks, gardening, fitness zones, sports and an action-based learning lab. It also is part of the Build Our Kids’ Success program supported by Reebok. Founder and Executive Director Kathleen Tullie created the before- and after-school exercise program based on studies showing that students achieve higher academic performance if they were physically active before their school day.
For Debbie Garcia, principal of SUPER School, the park provides a much-needed benefit to both their students and the surrounding community. “SUPER School is the only Action Based Learning school in Indianapolis . The renovation of Sandorf Park is a great partnership with the community. SUPER School believes in health and wellness for our students, and the brain science that supports movement increases memory in your brain,” she says. “We are so appreciative to Indy Parks for making the commitment to build the park for the children, in spite of all the obstacles we faced together. Since the park has been built, I have seen many families enjoying the outdoor space, especially during these trying times with [COVID-19].
A Tangible Impact on the Community
Never before have parks been as crucial as they are now. The pandemic has altered all of our lives, and time outdoors has been good for us, both physically and mentally. “During the pandemic, parks have been a refuge for our community as parents and children have been working and studying remotely and inside for so long. Parks like this allow us all to get out and enjoy outdoors safely,” says Andre Denman.
“In parks, our goal is always to provide the safest, most relevant, healthiest and most fun experience possible. But with limited funds, it’s hard to refresh our parks as regularly as we would like. So, to be able to give the users of this park all new playground equipment and other amenities is an absolute joy. We can already see that the park is a hit. So, if we’re able to offer some fun, active play, and a sense of community to folks who maybe haven’t felt all those things in 2020, we’re grateful,” says Linda Broadfoot. “It’s been a tough year for everyone. But I think this little corner of the world looks a bit brighter.”
For Cambridge, all the difficulties with this project were well worth it in the end. “This project was as rewarding as it was challenging. Sandorf Park is a great example of how local governments, community groups and the private sector can work collaboratively for the success of parks. In a community still enduring the lingering effects of historical disinvestment and redlining, Sandorf Park will make a tangible impact in the lives of local residents and the city of Indianapolis for years to come.”
Paula M. Jacoby-Garrett is a Freelance Writer located in Las Vegas, Nevada.