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SEBS Students Offer Designs for Voorhees Environmental Park

Reclaimed South Jersey landfill is the focus of collaborative community park.
Photo: Voorhees Township engineer Joe Hale.

Voorhees Township engineer Joe Hale explaining the site's stormwater run off drainage system to Rutgers Landscape Architecture graduate students.

The 37 acre landfill on Centennial Boulevard in Voorhees Township, NJ, is the focus of joint efforts among the township, the Voorhees Environmental and Cultural Education Foundation (VECEF) and the Rutgers Center for Urban Environmental Sustainability (CUES) to turn the former South Jersey landfill into an environmental park.

The task of coming up with conceptual designs for what will become the Voorhees Environmental Park fell to students in the Rutgers Graduate Program of Landscape Architecture. The students were invited to develop four preliminary, conceptual designs that formed the centerpiece of Voorhees' Township efforts to reclaim the landfill.

"The students' designs were completed in the spring and were used to test ideas about the conversion of this former Brownfield site into publicly usable open space," says Wolfram Hoefer, a professor of landscape architecture at Rutgers and co-director of CUES. Hoefer is also the program director of the Rutgers Landscape Architecture Undergraduate Program.

A dozen students worked as a team on four distinct designs that took into account the existing social, economic and ecological conditions of the landfill. The students gave their designs creative names like "In Solis Pacem" (PDF), "Interlock" (PDF), "Nucleus" (PDF) and "Succession" (PDF), incorporating existing elements natural to the space and reflecting the team's vision for the space as a public park.

'Nucleus' is one of four student designs.

"Nucleus" is one of four designs prepared by the students. For the design team, nature is the "nucleus" represented by the pond, moving gradually through a large open space towards the solar field, representing man-made technology. [Enlarge]

"The students did an outstanding job integrating concepts of open space, commercial use–represented by an array of solar panels–and storm water management," said Hoefer.

The four designs were on public display at the Voorhees Town Hall for close to a month, garnering a lot of attention, as the collaborators hoped. The designs were used to engage the community and other stakeholders in a public discussion about the possible uses and the shape of park, explained Hoefer, and they did just that.

Following an extensive public review of the conceptual designs and a comment period earlier this year, the next step was to combine the best ideas and approaches into one comprehensive design that will transform the landfill into a public park.

Hoefer, and a team of 5 graduate student interns, completed the comprehensive restoration design that will be presented by VECEF to the community and the township on Aug. 20, bringing the transformation of this former landfill one step closer to reality.

All along, the community has had the opportunity to be a part of the process. For close to a month in March and April, Voorhees residents were invited to comment on the project through an online survey established by CUES. Designed to solicit their input on the next phase of the design development, over 200 residents responded to a range of survey questions, from what kinds of amenities they wished to see in the park, how often they were likely to use the space to the activities they anticipate they would participate in at the park.

Hoefer was impressed by the community's response. "When residents have such buy-in on such a large-scale project, it's a great signal that the future of the endeavor is potentially more assured."

Township official are working to find a creative solution for sustaining funding for this new open space initiative by designating a substantial portion of the site to installing a solar power array. The financial incentives from the array will support building and maintaining the park, while, as Hoefer puts it, the designs of the Rutgers students will forever leave their mark on this landfill's transformation into an environmental park.

Learn more about the collaborative Voorhees Environmental Park project at the CUES website.

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