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One area reopened, two to go in Centennial Park reclamation

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Cathy Dobson

With the unsightly fence down and residents once again enjoying the north end of Centennial Park, city staff are preparing for the next step in the park’s reclamation – the demolition of the aging Dow People Place.

Residents and tourists took back the large piece of the waterfront greenspace last week, more than two years after asbestos and other contaminants were found in its soil.

“The area that has reopened is 100% contained,” said city parks director Beth Gignac.

“We hired a team of people (Golder Associates) who do this type of specialized remediation around the world and are experts. Folks should feel confident they can go out to the park and have a good time.”

While passive activities like picnics and kicking a ball around have resumed, city officials are discouraging heavy use until the grass is firmly established.

That means special events traditionally held on the Great Lawn will continue to be relocated.

The next phase is getting started right away, with the Dow People Place being razed in August and a new shoreline created with armour stonewall in the fall.

That area remains fenced off, and the Front Street parking lot will also be closed again to accommodate construction work in Phases Two and Three.

In 2013, the multi-million-dollar remediation was ordered by city council after consultants confirmed asbestos was in the ground and lead levels exceeded Environment Ministry standards by up to five times in some areas.

The first of the three cleanup phases cost $2.5 million and involved scraping topsoil from the open field, raising the toboggan hills in the north end by about 10 feet, and removing berms on the west and east sides of the field.

A geotextile fabric was laid over the contaminated area and covered with 20 inches of sand, then another eight inches of topsoil.

The work came in on time and on budget, said Gignac.

When major events do return to the Great Lawn, possibly in 2016, there will be no staking of tents, said Gignac.

“But tent companies have other ways to anchor tents,” she said. “It won’t be a problem.”

The children’s playground is one of the worst areas for contamination and will remain closed off, with the play equipment being removed this summer.

During Phase Three, a new playground will be built in another location in the park, along with a new stage and rotunda, relocated boat launch ramps, new parking and washrooms.

City council has budgeted another $3 million and asked for input to determine what amenities residents want in their park.

Ideas gleaned from three public meetings will be presented to council on July 27, said Gignac. A final plan is expected in September or October with a detailed construction schedule.

Centennial Park is open and residents couldn't be happier. Isla Gill, 7, left and Danica Pietrasik, 12, were one of the first to explore the big lawn after the fencing was removed last week. Standing by was mother Melissa Gill  who said it was wonderful to have the park reopened.

This panoramic view captures the newly reopened “Great Lawn” of Centennial Park.

Glenn Ogilvie

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