A Community Affair Outdoor Recreation Planning for Growing Communities

Located just east of Des Moines, Iowa, Pleasant Hill is a growing suburban community of nearly 7,000 residents. Over the last ten years Pleasant Hill has experienced a rapid growth rate of nearly 40%. This rise in population coupled with increased participation in outdoor recreation programs created a clear need for additional recreation facilities in order for the City of Pleasant Hill to continue providing the same level of recreation services to the community.

Early discussions of a new outdoor recreation complex amongst various leagues, organizations, and city government level representatives resulted in the City of Pleasant Hill purchasing approximately 103 acres of land on the eastern edge of the city corporate boundary. Prior to the land purchase, the City established an agreement with the Southeast Polk School District to sell 40 acres of this land for construction of a new high school to accommodate their increasing enrollment. The remaining 60 acres were identified as the site for the future Pleasant Hill Sports Complex. In May 2006, the City of Pleasant Hill retained the services of RDG Planning & Design, a national multi-disciplinary design firm specializing in recreation, sports, and athletic facilities design, to facilitate a public and user group input process, to help identify the community recreation needs, and to develop a comprehensive program and master plan for the complex.
Getting Input
RDG began working with City Staff to assemble a Steering Committee for the project. This Committee included representatives from the Pleasant Hill and Four Mile Little League organizations, the Pleasant Hill Soccer Club, the Southeast Polk School District, Little League International, the Pleasant Hill Park and Rec Commission, the Planning and Zoning Commission, the City Council, and several public officials from nearby communities. The following core values and guiding principles set forth by the Committee provided a clear foundation for consistent decision making throughout the design process:

  • Appropriate natural resource stewardship
  • Community sense of place
  • Multi-generational recreation opportunities
  • Year-round recreation opportunities
  • Safe and accessible facilities
  • Multi-purpose facilities
  • Quality facilities

RDG then interviews representatives from several select organizations and facilitated public forum input meetings to collect unbiased information from a cross section of individuals. These interviews and input meetings provided the design team with an understanding of the current recreation programs and facilities provided by the City, as well as insight to what and where deficiencies might exist. Additionally, these interviews and input meetings allowed the public an opportunity to voice opinions on the future facilities the City should most appropriately plan for as part of the new complex.
Pleasant Hill Youth Sports Complex - Pleasant Hill, Iowa - Rendering - Master Plan - No Labels1.jpg
Working With The Environment
The existing conditions of the 60-acre site presented several challenges and opportunities to the design team. The former agricultural field is directly adjacent to Spring Creek and portions of the site are located within the 100-year flood plain and floodway, limiting the land area that could be developed along the west edge of the site. A large area of hickory, oak, maple, and cedar trees parallels Spring Creek on either bank. A decision was made early in the design process, based on the core value for appropriate natural resource management, to preserve the trees along the west edge of the site to the greatest extent possible. This provided a mature woodland buffer for the Complex, but limited the land available for development of recreation fields. The existing site also had approximately 60 feet of grade change from the high point adjacent to the new high school to the low point at Spring Creek, presenting a unique challenge as recreation fields require large land areas of relatively flat ground. The 60 feet of grade change was seen as an opportunity by the design team to develop the Complex into several terraces with sports fields on each terrace and hillside seating opportunities for spectators.
The Bigger Picture
In addition to the site’s environmental challenges an ongoing regional planning effort (which RDG is also assisting the City of Pleasant Hill) identifies the sports complex site within the context of a larger civic campus. A comprehensive traffic analysis of this area recommended a new east-west public road, Meacham Drive, through the Sports Complex site to accommodate increased traffic from the new high school, Sports Complex, and mixed use development proposed as part of the overall Civic Campus Master Plan. RDG worked closely with the City Engineer to evaluate several alignment alternatives for Meacham Drive and their impacts on existing environmental systems and the established Sports Complex program. The design team ultimately recommended that the new public road be located on the north edge of the Sports Complex site adjacent to the new high school. This solution provided much needed vehicular access to both the high school and Sports Complex as well as prevented the Complex from being bisected into separate areas by Meacham Drive. “The ability to collectively manage the planning and design for the community’s multiple projects has been tremendous for the success of each piece of this puzzle,” said Rita Conner, the Director of Community Development for the City of Pleasant Hill. “It has truly been a process where no stone was left unturned, from a comprehensive review of the needs, to the positioning of the road, to the best ability to move forward in an environmentally responsible manner.”
Pleasant Hill Youth Sports Complex - Pleasant Hill, Iowa - Rendering - Perspective, Southeast1.jpg
The Features
The net result of these environmental challenges and public infrastructure improvements reduced the land area to develop the sports complex from 60 acres to approximately 45 acres. The final program for the complex included the following components and park amenities:

  • Two 300-foot baseball fields
  • Two 250-foot baseball fields
  • Four 200-foot baseball fields
  • Two 210-foot x 360-foot soccer fields
  • Three 210-foot x 315-foot soccer fields
  • Sports field irrigation
  • Sports field subsurface drainage
  • Sports field lighting
  • Two concession/restrooms buildings
  • Maintenance/storage building
  • Four pedestrian plazas with picnic shelters
  • Bioretention cells, raingardens, and bioswales
  • Naturalized lake
  • ADA compliant fishing pier
  • Outdoor community performance pavilion
  • Multi-purpose open space
  • ADA compliant, lighted, 10-ft wide trails
  • Wayfinding signage
  • Native landscape plantings
  • Educational signage
  • Sledding hill

Back to The Drawing Board
RDG developed several concept alternatives to accommodate the desired program on the 45 acres of available land. While these alternatives did accommodate the desired quantity of sports fields and park amenities, many of the established core values and guiding principles were sacrificed to achieve this on the 45 acres of available land area. This resulted in the design team recommending that the City explore additional land opportunities to increase the size of the Sports Complex site. Over the next several months, RDG and the City analyzed several different strategies and opportunities to increase the available land area for the Sports Complex, including property exchanges with the School District, property acquisitions from adjacent land owners, and potential partnerships with adjacent land developers. In the end, the City was able to purchase an additional 25 acres of land directly to the south of the initial site, effectively increasing the developable land area of the Sports Complex to 70 acres. Conner recalls, “There were some heart stopping moments when the reality emerged that we were potentially looking at eliminating desired features in the complex due to space constraints. It was the feeling of being very close to a dream but then abruptly waking up. It was the strength of the collaborative vision that brought the land negotiations to a successful outcome, and the process was able to move forward.” While this entire land analysis and acquisition process delayed the planning efforts of the project by several months, the end result is a unique Sports Complex that fulfills the desired program needs and remains true to the established core values and guiding principles set forth for the project.
The design team then developed and presented multipe master-plan otptions to the steering committee, facilitating severa public forums to obtain feedback. Pleasant Hill then entered into a 28E Agreement with the district, agreeing to provide the School District access to open space at the Sports Complex for physical education classes and extracurricular activities in exchange for the City having access to the high school parking lot areas during events. This resource-sharing arrangement substantially reduced the amount of parking needed on the Sports Complex site, effectively increasing the land area available for recreation purposes.
Coming Soon . . .
In April 2008, the first of three construction phases of the $13.5 million Pleasant Hill Sports Complex will commence. The adjacent Meacham Drive roadway project, providing critical vehicular access to the Sports Complex, is scheduled for completion fall of 2008. The new Southeast Polk High School project, providing additional vehicular parking for the Sports Complex, is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in December 2008. The Pleasant Hill Sports Complex is the result of the dedication and cooperation of many different organizations, public entities, and community members working together on a common goal.
“We looked at this on paper for so long, it will be an amazing moment when the first shovel is turned and the complex moves from plan to reality,” stated Conner. “This will be in addition to the reward of knowing that many diverse voices were heard in the process to bring this complex to life. The success of this project truly belongs to the full community.” In addition to enhancing the quality of life for residents through recreation, the Pleasant Hill Youth Sports Complex will provide community identity, a sense of place, and environmental education opportunities for future generations. For more information on the Pleasant Hill Youth Sports Complex, visit www.rdgusa.com/parks/pleasanthill/sportscomplex.
Scott Crawford, ASLA, LEED AP, is a partner and landscape architect with RDG Planning & Design, which provides landscape architecture, architecture, interior design, lighting design, artistry, graphic design, strategic planning, urban design and comprehensive planning services.

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