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Freedom Park honors area’s culture, history and veterans


Long-awaited park offers pockets of peace, tranquility

A unique park in Jacksonville, Florida, provides a peaceful, commemorative haven for special groups of people, including a culture-rich community and U.S. military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

image of freedom park
A subtle design element takes advantage of the park’s triangular shape: The ellipses created by the sidewalks not only decrease in size from one end to the other, but their interiors alternate between depressions and mounds, each with a different amount of rise or fall. The largest depression with the various plantings is reminiscent of the wetlands prevalent in Florida. It also serves as a primary stormwater treatment facility.

The 1.6-acre memorial park, named Freedom Park, is nestled between McCormick and Fort Caroline roads in Jacksonville’s Arlington area. The park serves as an entry point to the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor — established by Congress in 2006 — and the Fort Caroline National Memorial. These sites have national significance and are important to the history and culture of the area.

The Gullah Geechee are African Americans who share common cultural influences, including a Creole dialect, and settled in the coastal lowlands, from North Carolina to North Florida, including in an area of Jacksonville called Cosmo — the site of the new park. The Gullah Geechee founded Cosmo on land granted to freed slaves in the late 1800s.

Funding, support push park forward

While an area to commemorate the Gullah Geechee and Cosmo community was a longtime dream for area residents and historians, grant funding provided by Florida’s legislature made the park a reality. The city of Jacksonville received a grant from the state for more than $521,000 to create a park that would recognize not only the Gullah Geechee community but also military veterans living with PTSD.

image of freedom park with sign denoting history of the gullah geechee people
Freedom Park provides a peaceful, commemorative haven for special groups of people, including the Gullah Geechee community and U.S. military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hanson’s Jacksonville staff was excited and inspired to help bring the vision of the park to life as part of a design-build team. Working with the city of Jacksonville and led by Hanson’s Randy Downing, P.E., LEED AP®, a senior project manager, the project team immediately began developing plans for the new park, which were needed quickly to meet the grant requirements.

“This park had been a dream for so many in the Jacksonville community, and we were honored to lead the team tasked with designing this healing memorial park. Our team worked quickly to develop the plans in just a few months to meet the grant requirements, fulfill a dream for our community and provide a place to honor the history and service of our residents and veterans,” Downing said.

Designers strive to create a special, safe and serene setting

While the vision and expectations for the park were big, the footprint of the triangle-shaped property was small — less than 2 acres — and sandwiched between two busy roadways. The challenge facing the team would be to maximize every bit of space available to create a welcoming yet calming and reflective environment for visitors.

In a Florida Times-Union article published Jan. 24, 2021, Jacksonville City Council member Al Ferraro said, “It’s not a large piece of land, but it’s a big idea.”

To help bring the vision of Freedom Park to life and complement the team’s efforts, Hanson enlisted the services of local subconsultants that assisted with the landscape architecture, geotechnical engineering and surveying aspects of the project. Together, the team also coordinated throughout the project with ACON Construction Co., the general contractor; the city of Jacksonville Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services; and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to deliver the final design.

images showing transformation of freedom park to finished project
A once-empty lot in Jacksonville, Florida, was developed into the beautiful, tranquil Freedom Park to honor the area’s culture, history and military veterans. The park features four connected circular areas that are framed by a walking path, garden areas and informational signage. The eye-shaped features are a tribute to overlooked or unseen people.

Downing and Hanson’s engineers focused on the site civil engineering design and permits for the park. Their design featured a distinctive 8-foot-wide, ¼-mile-long, continuous-loop walking path surrounded by green space and garden areas, a 15-space parking lot and a stormwater collection system to meet FDOT’s critical storm criteria. The team created more than 40 stormwater models for critical storm events, ranging from two years to 100 years.

“Our team designed a meandering, connected-ring walking path that invites visitors to stroll through the park and gardens and enjoy the area’s beauty and tranquility. The landscaping not only adds attractive, natural and healing elements to the park, it also transformed the underutilized parcel into a visual oasis for both pedestrians and motorists,” Downing said.

aerial image of freedom park
Freedom Park’s design features a distinctive 8-foot-wide, ¼-mile-long, continuous-loop walking path surrounded by green space and garden areas, a 15-space parking lot and an integrated stormwater management system. The project was completed in four months.

This was especially important as the team considered ways to make the space safe, soothing and restorative for veterans with PTSD who might be sensitive to the physical and environmental aspects of the park and surrounding settings.

The time frame for this project was extremely tight. Planning, design, permitting and construction were on a four-month, accelerated schedule to meet the state grant requirements. The design-build team completed Freedom Park in October 2020 — four months from start to finish, during a global pandemic, no less.

For more information about this project or how Hanson can help you with a project that is important to you and your community, contact Randy Downing, P.E., LEED AP®, at rdowning@hanson-inc.com.

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