Dig Baton Rouge

Testing the Waters

By Tara Bennett

SWA Group, a leading international landscape architecture, and urban design firm, was selected to revitalize the slowly dying LSU City Lakes.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF) announced on Monday, June 30 that SWA Group had been selected from four finalists to develop a master plan for the lakes. Other finalists were Design Workshop Inc. from Boston, EDSA from Baltimore, Md., and Kyle Zick Landscape Architecture, also from Baltimore.

“It was very, very close, which is encouraging because it meant we had high quality teams,” said BRAF Executive Vice President John Spain. “SWA had a good comprehensive plan and looked at not only how we restore the lakes, but doing other things so people can utilize the lakes.”

The six lake system was created out of a stretch of swampland in the 1930’s. Over the years, silt continuously drained into the lake and settled at the bottom, causing the lake to return to its swampy origins. The average depth of the lakes is only 2.5 feet and continues to become swallower each year. Along with the deterioration of the lakes, the surrounding areas are considered dangerous for joggers and bikers who share the street with traffic.

“It’s not unusual that you’d be jogging along the street or the corner and there’s a car there. That’s not a good idea, that’s not safe,” said Spain.

The work for the lakes project will be spearheaded by SWA Group in collaboration with Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects. The planning team was chosen by a selection panel, which consisted of representatives of BRAF, LSU, BREC, city-parish government, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Louisiana Department of Transportation, underwriters of the project and lakes-area homeowners.

“I think they were particularly passionate about the project because they’ve been at LSU, they’ve gone to LSU, and they knew how important the lakes were to the community.”

During his presentation, SWA Group President and LSU alumnus Kinder Baumgardner showed the work SWA Group did in the past on Houston’s Buffalo Bayou park to illustrate the possible future for the LSU lakes. The bayou degraded over time and was considered a waste water infrastructure until SWA Group transformed it.

“For us, their passion and their personal understanding of how important these lakes were was also a key factor in selecting them, but I would say if we had to select any one of the three other finalists we’d have been happy with any of them. They were all that good,” said Spain. “So the difference was really small, but we liked their overall plan and their ability to execute it.”

The master plan will provide a landscaping plan, recommendations for signage, improvements for traffic circulation, mitigation of noise and pollution from the interstate, designs for gateways and more. Among the number of possibilities for improvements in SWA Group’s presentation were trail circuits, beaches, a boat-house cafe, and a science eco-trail. The presentation also featured a potential plan using the dredge from the LSU lakes to create more land around the edges of the lakes, which would allow joggers and bikers to have their own trails. One of the cosmetic possibilities included in the presentation was an island built in the middle of University Lake in the shape of Mike the Tiger’s head.

“I think they were particularly passionate about the project because they’ve been at LSU, they’ve gone to LSU, and they knew how important the lakes were to the community,” said Spain.

According to Spain, there will be open meetings for the public to voice what they will want to see starting in late August or September. With help from public opinion, the SWA Group will work to complete the master plan by summer 2015.

“What the master plan is, that we envision, is something that is driven by the community,” said Spain. “It’s not about what I want; it’s what the community wants. There will be plenty of opportunities over the year for people to tell us what they want.”

Proposed Ideas for the Lake

  • Trail Circuits
  • Beaches
  • Boat House Café
  • Science Eco-trail
  • “Mike the Tiger” Island
  • Fusing lakes for Olympic-length crew course

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