City previews second phase of Phil Hardberger Park

With the first phase of development of Phil Hardberger Park nearing completion, city officials and consultants have unveiled plans for the second round of improvements to the 311-acre park in North Central San Antonio.

At a Jan. 13 public meeting at Oak Meadow Elementary School, San Antonio District 9 City Councilman Louis Rowe told 70 attendees that the park's first trail will be completed by April, with five, additional projects - all part of Phase lA - slated for completion by September. He said the second phase, Phase lB, will begin in September adding that both phases have been fully funded.

Phase lA, costing $2.2 million, includes the initial clearing of a savanna and recreation field as well as the construction of a trail and parking lot on the east side of the park, located near the northwest corner of Blanco Road and Wurzbach Parkway.

Phase lB, valued at $2.7 million, will feature construction of a pavilion and bluff overlook, the creation of a park entry off Northwest Military Highway and development of a restored savanna, recreation field, two trails and scenic clearings.

Landscape architect Stephen Stimson, whose firm is overseeing the park's development, said the 140-foot-long pavilion will feature a classroom with seating for 40, office space, restrooms and a shaded porch.

He said the pavilion, slated for completion in October 2010, will include ecologically friendly features such as solar panels, cisterns that collect water for area wildlife, recycling bins and composting toilets.

"This will be a state-of-the-art, open-air pavilion with a classroom that will demonstrate sustainable systems," Stimson said. "It will feature sun and water harvesting and will be a place where one can learn about regional ecology."

During the meeting two residents questioned the wisdom of using composting toilets, as opposed to connecting toilets to the city sewer line. They voiced concerns about the cost of the composting system and the ability of foam to adequately clear human waste in each toilet, but Stimson was undeterred in his advocacy of composting toilets.

"This is something we feel very strongly about," Stimson said. "We feel it's our mission to save water and use it as an educational tool. We estimate that we'll be able to save 300,000 gallons of water each year by using the composting toilets."

Stimson said another key feature of Phase lB will be an eight-foot-wide overlook that cantilevers 16 feet over Salado Creek.

"The overlook will accentuate the experience of being over the creek," he said. "It was originally 24 feet long, but was scaled back to 16 feet to address nearby residents privacy concerns. If we made it any shorter, it would make it difficult to see upstream or downstream."

Despite changes to the overlook's design, a few residents said they are still concerned about a loss of privacy, commenting that since many trees have dropped their leaves, the canopy that once shielded their backyards from view has been eliminated. Stimson promised to review the matter.

Stimson said additional improvements in Phase lB include the planting of native grasses and flowering plants to form oak savanna, the development of a nine-acre recreational field and the construction of two bike/pedestrian trails, which will be part of a nine-mile trail system.

He said while some of the paths will be relatively straight other paths will be curved to give a sense of mystery and will lead to scenic clearings.

"We think it's important to have destinations," Stimson said. "The outdoor areas in the landscape will be framed areas with places to sit, walkways and sightlines. Sightlines are great orientating locations. They allow views of various areas and help you avoid getting lost in the park."