VOL. 130 | NO. 86 | Monday, May 4, 2015
Shelby Farms Mixes Spring and Construction
By Bill Dries
The invitation advised guests to “dress for dirt.”
But when the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy broke ground Thursday, April 30, on the park’s new visitors and events centers, most attendees were wearing suits and dresses.
Executive director of the Shelby Farms Conservancy Laura W. Morris speaks at the Heart of the Park groundbreaking at Shelby Farms Park.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
The dirt was abundant on the leveled slab of earth in a park that is spring green in many places but undergoing a $70 million transformation in others.
The two centers, which are to open in September 2016, are part of the “Heart of the Park” plan whose major feature is the expansion of Patriot Lake from 52 acres to 80 acres.
The centers will include a restaurant, meeting space, boat rental kiosk and education areas, and the larger lake will be the view from the windows and porches to come. Trucks and other heavy equipment on wheels were on stand-by around the lake for the formalities.
“We’ve been working on the landscape for almost a year,” said Laura Morris, the conservancy’s executive director. “The landscape will catch up while we bring the facilities on line.”
Buildings on the park land that in the 1970s seemed destined to become a residential subdivision after serving as the Shelby County Penal Farm before that could have been a bigger issue.
“There is so much that is moving in this community that is green,” Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said.
FedEx Corp., First Tennessee Foundation and AutoZone Inc. are the lead contributors to the visitors and events centers.
Morris told those at the groundbreaking that what began as woodlands is moving closer to that with the master plan.
“We celebrate the healing of the land,” she added.
Both of the buildings, designed by Marlon Blackwell Architect, will be heated and cooled using geothermal energy in the first project of its kind in Shelby County, where such projects are normally not allowed.
“There is a concern if you go vertically with the piping that you might interfere with the (water) aquifer,” Morris said. “But because we have such a large lake it gives us the opportunity to have a horizontal geothermal field which accomplishes the same thing without having to dig.”
Morris said the system will save thousands of dollars in annual utility costs.
Farm Road, once the main entrance to the park off Walnut Grove Road, still allows access, but is no longer what amounts to the park’s Main Street. A new entrance further east on Walnut Grove Road awaits construction.
And the park remains a work in progress with the demands of a new spring and summer visitor base returning to find the work crews on altered routes and routines.
“If we have to give them a temporary route or we have to divert a trail, we are able to communicate with people pretty well about what’s going on,” Morris said. “We’ve also gone the additional step of activating other parts of the park that just typically haven’t been as busy. It’s a little inconvenience but I promise it will be worth it.”