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Patrick Springer, Published April 29 2012

Rabanus Park redesign planned

FARGO – The large waffle hole at Rabanus Park is designed to hold storm-water. But lately it’s been filled to the brim with possibilities.

Part of it could become a wetland. It could be planted with indigenous plants from around the world. It could feature kinetic sculptures. The drainage canal could become a creek spanned by one or more pedestrian bridges.

Those and other possibilities were bandied about Sunday in a brainstorming session following a celebratory get-acquainted tour of Rabanus Park, 4415 18th Ave. S., which includes an 18-acre retention pond in the shape of an irregular hexagon.

The mission of The Fargo Project, as it’s called: Transform the Rabanus Park Basin from its bland, grassy utilitarian look into public art.

Whatever ideas people come up, they must be compatible with the harsh elements.

If not, “Mother Nature will win,” said Jackie Brookner, an ecological artist from New York City and project leader. “I guarantee that.”

People have said they want the space to be peaceful and relaxing; accessible and welcoming; to become a place that makes you sing; and, most ambiguously ambitious, “Something beyond words.”

Suggested features include a learning path, windbreak, buffalo boulders, community or contemplative garden, natural play area, walking trails, skating and sledding areas and, perhaps the most quixotic, a hill.

“You can see how many fabulous ideas there are in addition to what we’ve already got,” Brookner said.

Any designs will be constrained by budget – including $200,000 from a National Endowment for the Arts grant and matching city grant – and the practicalities inherent in maintaining a working storm-water retention pond.

Even so, “We actually have a lot of freedom in my mind,” said Nicole Crutchfield, a Fargo city planner involved in the project.

Participants gathered into small groups at tables in the Ed Clapp Senior Center. At each table was a scale model of Rabanus Basin, made of malleable sand, and a map overlaid by traceable paper so participants could sculpt or sketch their ideas.

More opportunities for brainstorming are available today, Tuesday and Wednesday in the warming house at Rabanus Park, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Project leaders will meet from June to early July to try to pull together the ideas and come up with a plan to present to city engineers, who will evaluate their practicality.

“If all goes well, we’ll be breaking ground, doing some earth moving by late fall and start some planting next spring,” Brookner said.

April Walker, an engineer for the city, is looking forward to receiving the ideas. Engineers don’t always see the aesthetic potential of the projects they design.

“We’re good at utilitarian,” Walker said. “We’re good at knowing what the function is and designing for the function.”

The function of the 18-acre basin is to store water that runs off from the “highly impervious area,” which includes lots of parking lots from shopping centers and apartment buildings.

Someday soon the Rabanus Basin also can be much more than that, if Brookner and her team succeed.

“We’re excited,” Walker said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522