Mike Tupa, University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture and Planning Colorado Center for Community Development technical assistance coordinator
The storm was loud, lightning flashing, and to hear Town Manager Victoria Simonsen
tell it, the evening was taking a bad turn as she worked in her office. One flash and she saw water outside her window. Another and she realized it was a river of water flooding the side of the building halfway up her office window. Of course, her first reaction was to protect the files and computers, but as the storm continued, the main floor of the town hall received its share of floodwaters on that August evening of 2013. But it was the aftermath that shook the community. Homes washed away or buried in debris from upstream. Lives changed and a community shaken.
The town hall always had a picnic area to the west (upstream) of the building. Located below the upper parking lot, this area served as parking lot, visitor picnic patio, or a place for employees to take an afternoon break. But after
the flood, this lawn was filled with debris, rock, and gravel that had washed down from above town. Something had
to be done, and it was felt that a plaza would be the best solution to host town hall events and to reflect the character of Lyons.
Lyons had just completed a major downtown restoration effort that used native sandstone seating walls, paving, and planters. It was decided to bring this character treatment into the town hall plaza and create a place to hold outdoor gatherings, have a picnic lunch, or just enjoy the landscape. The Colorado University Technical Assistance (UTA) Program, under a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, was asked to help the Town create a vision for this plaza. After preparation of several design alternates, the Town chose a plan that reflected the flowing stream bed with terrace dry stack sandstone walls and planters, a large rock “island,” fine gravel plaza surface, planting areas, lighting, and upgraded entry walks and parking. These ideas helped to get the ball rolling. The community became excited, contractors volunteered, and local groups stepped in to be part of the program.
Honeywell, working on the Town sewage treatment facility, offered project oversight and design engineers to lay out the final design on-site. Public works employees offered their assistance to final grade the site, trench in utilities and irrigation, and move materials to the site. Weekly planning meetings brought together local volunteers, Town staff, and UTA design interns to shape a project the Town desired. As these meetings grew, a construction date was set, funding was in place, donations secured, contractors signed on for the heavy lifting, and volunteers identified. The team began looking for more to undertake; finally, since the town hall needed painting, that also became a priority.
Workers were needed to get this all completed. Honeywell offered corporate volunteers from across the country, University of Colorado Denver offered landscape architecture and planning student interns, Kiwanis brought in volunteers from across the region, and the local community showed up to dig in. In fact, there were so many volunteers that some had to be held for afternoon work, and others were assigned work elsewhere in the community. Heavy lifting and detail construction work on the walls was completed by Blue Mountain Stone, a local provider
Before the volunteers showed up on a cool morning in November, gravel, backfill topsoil, stone, paint, and materials were delivered to the site. More than 70 volunteers then were put to work in teams, again organized by the Honeywell project management team, to shovel and spread topsoil within the terrace planters, fine grade the patio, lay down fabric, spread chipper fines, and paint the town hall. Work started early in the morning. At noon, crews were treated to locally provided lunch and music. New volunteers were added to the group, and work continued to sunset. For the most part, everything was completed in time for local refreshments that evening.
Town public works employees finished the heavy work moving large boulders, setting up lighting and irrigation, and completing final detail work. Planting of the terrace planters was accomplished by the local gardening groups to enhance habitat and provide seasonal color.
Today, the plaza is the pride of Lyons and is a symbol of its ability to cope with disaster and come back with a renewed community spirit. And it all started with some concept plans and flashy graphics.