Vermont's largest city reopened a downtown park Friday that had been closed for more than a year for a dramatic transformation.
It includes new protections for the environment and a timely memorial.
"At long last, we have a public space at the physical and cultural heart of Burlington that is alive," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.
Weinberger and Burlington children were among the first to enjoy the splash pad and lighted fountain in the remade City Hall Park, which debuted Friday.
"It looks fantastic," said Sue Krajac of Burlington, who was walking her dog through the park Friday.
Lengthy public debate over design and even a lawsuit brought by people opposed to the loss of historic character and mature shade trees meant the park renovations were nearly a decade in the works.
The Imagine City Hall planning process started in 2011, and continued with public meetings and other initiatives over the past five years.
The construction phase, which eventually started in July 2019, came in on time and under budget, even despite the pandemic, Weinberger's office said. There was a $125,000 mid-construction budget reduction allowing for the use of durable finishes that were at risk of being cut for cost reasons, the mayor's office added.
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The park came with a price tag of less than a million dollars to taxpayers, after grants, philanthropic gifts, and development funds covered the rest of the $5.75 million budget.
"From an ecological standpoint, this park was failing badly," recalled V.J. Comai, Burlington's city arborist. "It was quite sick."
Today, there's rich turf with irrigation, thousands of new plantings, and young trees replacing unhealthy ones—with only three fewer than before, the city said.
"I would absolutely say City Hall Park represents a move of the future," said Jenna Olson, who runs Burlington's water policy programs.
Olson pointed to Friday's weather as the perfect demo for some of the park's green features, including several rain gardens that serve as catch basins for runoff.
"That can really reak havoc on our combined sewer system," Olson told NECN.
Pavers also allow rain and melting snow to go into the soil as opposed to flowing over blacktop and down drains.
Olson said that will take pressure off the city wastewater treatment system, which gets stressed in storms and can spill sewage right into Vermont's iconic Lake Champlain.
"We are really trying to be proactive," Olson said.
Friday, Mayor Weinberger dedicated the park renovations to Burlington residents who died with COVID-19.
A plaque honoring the lives lost says all the joy the remade space will bring residents and visitors alike can only be guaranteed through a continued focus on public health and science.