From Rails to Recreation: A Q&A with Switchyard Park’s Design Team

Axis Architecture Blog Post

Earlier this month, officials broke ground on the long-awaited Switchyard Park. Several members of the design team attended the groundbreaking, including Axis’ own Eric Anderson and Rundell Ernstberger Associates’ Kevin Osburn. They have been working on Switchyard Park since 2015 and 2011, respectively, and were eager to answer some questions about the 58-acre park.



How long have you been working with the City of Bloomington?

Kevin Osburn (KO): REA began working with the city in 2011 and completed the Switchyard Park master plan in 2012. Our work with the city continued for the next several years, until we were commissioned to prepare final design and construction documents in 2015.

Eric Anderson (EA): REA hired Axis in 2015 to assist with conceptual design of the park buildings. Roughly one year later, the project was approved to complete design, and we continued developing the buildings.


Eric, could you describe an architect’s role in a parks and rec project, when they (the architect) may not be the lead?

EA: It’s similar to our traditional role as the lead designer in that we work closely with landscape architects, other consultants, and the client. It’s different in that we are often involved at a much earlier point in the master planning of large areas of land.


Was the master plan for Switchyard Park designed to be a phased project?

KO: Yes, but the city decided to fund the park as a single project. I think the city was smart to realize that, if they could do it all at once, the impact would be greater than a prolonged development that would not be finished for an unknown number of years.



What were some of the most-requested amenities?  

KO: As a part of the year-long master planning process, REA facilitated a four-day community design workshop to engage the community. During that time, park stakeholders and constituents came forward with a range of preferred design elements, including trails; flexible open space; play space; interactive water features; a skatepark; a dog park; a performance venue; basketball, pickleball, and bocce courts; a community garden; public art; and habitat preservation and conservation areas.


Are there any modern-day amenities Switchyard Park has that other parks don’t?

EA: Full coverage Wi-Fi!


Will the park be able to host events and activities year-round?

KO: Switchyard Park is designed to be unlike any other park in Bloomington. It will feature year-round activities and programming such as concerts, performances, festivals, markets, weddings, and corporate events. The central events pavilion, events lawn, platform area, performance stage, and park shelters provide opportunities for events and programming throughout the day and on a year-round basis.


What challenges do you think the City of Bloomington will face once the park is completed?

EA: I think they’ll have a long waiting list of people who want to use the pavilion for events!


Speaking of, does the pavilion share design features with the other structures?  

EA: Axis designed the pavilion, splash pad restroom building, performance stage, and picnic shelter. We also are renovating an existing building into a Bloomington Police Department substation. One of our goals was to create a “campus” or “brand” with the various buildings. Several common materials are used throughout the park, including exposed steel structures, metal panel façade materials, wood soffit and façade accents, and limestone facades and details. The materials also make a subtle nod to the industrial nature of the railyard.



Dave Williams, the director of operations and development for Bloomington’s parks and recreation department, described the park as an “innovative, sustainable design that caters to everyone in the community.” What sustainable and environmentally friendly features are included in Switchyard Park?

KO: We incorporated sustainable design best practices in many ways – LEED certified buildings, constructed wetlands, stream corridor and habitat preservation, native plant communities, an invasive plant management plan, the reduction of storm water runoff, and storm water capture for irrigation.

EA: The area the park sits on was contaminated with coal ash and other materials from years of use as a railway switchyard, so steps are being taken to clean the site of those contaminants. Waterways are also being restored and daylighted after being covered by culverts for years. As Kevin said, the pavilion building and police substation have been designed to achieve LEED Silver and Certified ratings, respectfully. Those buildings have solar power components and rainwater capturing systems, along with other sustainable elements.


Describe the park’s connectivity to the B-Line Trail.  

KO: The B-Line Trail passes directly through Switchyard Park, running its entire length and providing a direct link to downtown. Miles of new trail will be constructed to loop trails throughout the park and connect to adjacent neighborhoods. 



What are some of the criticisms the team has received during the project?

EA: I don’t recall any major (or event minor) criticisms the team has received, actually.

KO: Yeah, surprisingly, there has been very little criticism. I think most people realized the park property, in its current state, is a liability. It had laid dormant, abandoned, and unimproved for nearly four decades. It was time to capitalize on its potential to be a signature recreational amenity.


What is next for the City of Bloomington, do you think?

EA: Good question! Definitely the redevelopment of areas around the park.

KO: Yeah, REA is working with the city on a district-level plan to identify opportunities for private development and investment around Switchyard Park. We are also helping the city with a vision plan for the developing Trades District. They’re also exploring possibilities for the redevelopment of the former IU Hospital site. The City has a lot of exciting things they are working on!