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Lions Park: Citizen Architects Transform Their Community
Project:Lions Park Shade Project
Location:Greensboro, Alabama, USA
Fabricator:Altech Panel Systems
ArchitectStudents in the Rural Studio program of the Auburn University School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture
Exterior Panel Manufacturer:ALPOLIC® Materials | Mitsubishi Plastics Composites America, Inc.
Product:ALPOLIC®/PE 4mm aluminum composite material
Coating:Lumiflon® FEVE by in ALPOLIC® custom Haint Blue and RVW White Valflon® coatings supplied by Valspar
Completion:Projected for Spring, 2016
Industry:Architectural - Education

You can learn a lot about a community by hanging out at the local park.

Lions Park is a 40-acre space at the southern edge of the rural Alabama town of Greensboro. Ten years ago, as Gertrude Stein might have said, there was no “there” there – just a few baseball diamonds that were often flooded by water draining from the roof of the adjacent county office. Beyond that, not much more than a huge expanse of featureless, shadeless ground baking in the relentless summer sun.

Still, it was the largest shared space for this community of about 2,400 – a place that belonged to people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities and interests. And they deserved a welcoming park with something for everyone to enjoy. For the last 10 years, hanging out at the park has provided an opportunity to witness a remarkable community transformation.

Rural Studio: A Hale County Love Story
Rural Studio is an undergraduate program of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture at Auburn University. Since 1993, Rural Studio has educated more than 600 “Citizen Architects” working in small teams to build more than 150 projects designed to improve and connect the lives of people living in rural Hale County.

As this short film about Rural Studio, shows what students in the program find is “a love story: love of architecture, love of place, love of people.” For Lions Park, this year marks the diamond anniversary, as Rural Studio has spent the last 10 years showing its love for the community through an ongoing series of architectural and landscaping projects.

Relief from the Summer Sun
If you visit today, you’re likely to see a team of four recent Rural Studio graduates – now continuing on as volunteers – completing the newest Lions Park project. Until now, there has been very little shade in the park beyond a narrow band of mature trees bordering the lake. In the heat of an Alabama summer, shade can make the difference between enjoying the park or staying home with the AC on. The The Lions Park Shade project will soon be completed to address that need.

The four-person team has created intriguing canopy designs to shade three key areas of the park, from the pick-up and drop-off location to spaces for relaxing, reading and picnicking. More than simply giving relief from the sun, the canopies are designed to offer an ever-changing perspective on the sky and surroundings. The iterative process of envisioning and realizing the canopy design is documented on the Rural Studio blog, and it’s a fascinating journey to follow.

The team studied great shaded spaces around the world, including Hale County itself, then built models to test shadow types they categorize as “repetitive, transparency, surface interaction, and organic shadow.” Applying these concepts, they created a system of ALPOLIC® ACM panels fabricated into “V” shapes and installed in two opposing levels.

This canopy design provides complete shading while allowing reflected light to keep the shaded space bright and inviting. Perforations on the panel ends add interest to the shade pattern as it changes over days and seasons. The design also channels away rainwater while maintaining an open feel with views of the sky that change with the viewer’s position.

In choosing colors for the panels, the team reached back to an old Southern tradition of painting porch ceilings “haint blue” to ward off evil spirits or “haints.” They tested various shades of this light blue color to create a perfect blend with the sky and give the impression of daylight extending beyond sunset.

Prototypes were fabricated and color tests made using ALPOLIC® materials. The final installation will incorporate ALPOLIC® ACM with a Lumiflon® FEVE resin-based finish by Valflon® in a color custom-matched to the team’s precise choice of “haint blue.”

Altech Panel Systems is also providing its services to fabricate panels for the project, which will greatly simplify the students’ work when the time comes to build the shade canopies they’ve worked so hard to perfect. This summer, the students had an opportunity to tour Altech’s Cartersville, Georgia facility, meet the Altech team, learn about the fabrication process and work out details of design and scheduling.

If You Drain It, They Will Come
Lions Park Shade is just the latest in a long line of projects that Rural Studio has undertaken to transform the park from a neglected and underutilized space into an engaging destination for the entire community.

The first project, completed in 2006, involved improving parking, reorienting the ball fields to prevent flooding and adding lights so the fields could be used at night. With a creative land exchange, a grant from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, additional fundraising by Rural Studio, and a lot of donated expertise, labor and materials, the project team was able to make improvements that many thought to be financially impossible.

The Lions Park Baseball Fields are now usable, and the area where the four diamonds converge behind home plate serves as the central hub of activity for players and spectators, day and night. And the Lions Park Restrooms project, completed in 2007, uses an ingenious system to collect the same water that used to flood the old ball fields, then puts it to use flushing the toilets in beautiful new bathrooms located at the county office pavilion.

Beyond Baseball: Attracting New Park Users
Also in 2007, a separate Surfaces team created a huge steel gate spelling out “Lions Park” and built tree-lined pathways over buried utility lines to guide visitors into the heart of the park. And two teams completed major architectural projects in 2009 to draw additional users to the park and improve their experience.

A new skate park was designed and built with funding provided by a $25,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation. While the grant was intended as startup money, the entire skate park was completed for that amount as the Rural Studio team took on the challenge of forming and pouring complex concrete features themselves, rather than hiring the job out.

An innovative mobile concession stand was also created to serve multiple user groups. Built on a wheeled platform and with multiple docking stations, it’s designed to be easily moved between tournaments on different sports fields. A dramatic jaw-like clamshell cover can be closed to secure the stand when not in use.

Kids and Scouts, Families and Fitnesss
The Lions Park Playscape came next, completed in 2010. Built of 3,000 donated 55-gallon galvanized barrels, it’s an incredible maze with features that engage all the senses as kids actively explore a monumental, enveloping environment unlike any traditional playground. The Lions Park Scout Hut was completed in 2012, featuring a striking design that evokes a log cabin, with small diameter “thinnings” harvested from the forest by the Rural Studio team and stacked within wooden frames. Additional public restrooms and fountains were also built to serve this area of the park.

Another project, Lions Park Landscape , added contours, vegetation and pathways that make the park more appealing for family strolls, picnics and casual recreation. An additional goal was to minimize maintenance costs. For example, the addition of rainwater gardens and 160 trees provide a lush environment without the need to mow large sections of the park.

For exercise buffs, the Lions Park Fitness team has placed a series of bright red workout machines near the pathway and in the shade of the trees beyond the football/soccer field. Machines for weight training, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility are placed on steel bridges strategically located to provide views of the lake and pastures just beyond the park.

We’re Proud to Be “There”
The new Lions Park Shade project is the culmination of ten years of design work and physical labor donated to the people of Greensboro. We find the vision, generosity and love that go into Rural Studio endeavors to be positively breathtaking. Along with Altech and SAF, we’re honored to be partners in helping these brilliant young people create their first extraordinary project.

In a place that had no “there” until they touched it with their minds, hearts and hands, Lions Park is becoming vibrant, multifaceted space that brings joy to everyone in the Greensboro area. That’s a community brought together, and a life in architecture well begun.

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