City unveils possible designs for Rodney stormwater pond
Newarkers last week got their first glimpse at detailed plans to transform the shuttered Rodney dorm complex into a stormwater management pond surrounded by a park.
City officials and their engineering consultant JMT unveiled three possible concepts during a Sept. 28 workshop at city hall. The simplest design consists of the pond, a walking trail and a meadow, while the most ambitious — and expensive — proposal aims to create a “destination park” with amenities including a large playground, pavilions, fishing docks and a pedestrian bridge.
“This is a project that doesn’t come along every day,” Tim Filasky, interim director of public works, said.
Cost estimates range from $6 million to $9.8 million, depending on which design is ultimately chosen. The city will pay $4.2 million for the purchase of the land, environmental remediation and demolition of the buildings. Constructing the pond will cost between $1.4 million and $1.8 million, and the remainder of the cost is for installing the park amenities.
The city will fund the project through the state’s revolving loan program and pay off the loan by increasing the proposed monthly stormwater fee charged to property owners. The longplanned stormwater fee, which council will vote on Monday, will charge residents between $1.77 and $5.31 each month — based on the amount of impervious surfaces on their property — to fund the city’s stormwater operations and fix aging infrastructure.
If the Rodney pond moves forward, the stormwater fee will increase, with the average resident paying an additional 82 cents to $1.36 per month. That equates to the average resident paying between $196.80 and $326.40 over the 20 years it will take to pay off the loan.
Large commercial property owners, including the University of Delaware, will pay a higher fee.
Construction of the pond is contingent on residents approving a referendum allowing the city to take on debt. The vote is planned for next spring.
Newark officials have discussed purchasing the dorm site on Hillside Road since 2015 when UD announced it would close the dorms and sell the property. The city is under contract to buy the 7.24-acre site but has another three years to make a final decision.
Earlier this year, the city hired JMT to help design the pond and park and solicit public feedback. At a meeting in July, residents were invited to make suggestions for what they would like the site to look like, and the concepts presented last week incorporated many of those ideas. After taking into consideration more feedback, a final design proposal will be unveiled in November.
The proposal will then go to city council, which will vote on whether to take it to referendum.
The most critical piece of the project, of course, is the stormwater pond, which works the same way in each of the three proposals, except for a difference in the shape.
Currently, stormwater pipes carrying runoff from Oaklands and surrounding neighborhoods converge near the Rodney site and during heavy rain, overwhelm the system and cause flooding.
The pond would give the water a place to collect, and the water would be released in a controlled manner over a longer period of time. That would alleviate flooding in that area as well as downstream in Old Newark and Devon, Filasky said.
At normal times, the pond would be about 3 feet deep and increase to 6 feet during heavy rains. To prevent people from falling in, the drop off would be gradual. An initial “safety bench” area surrounding the pond would normally be dry and have various plants acting as a barrier. Beyond that would be an “aquatic bench” where the water is only a foot deep.
“You have to really try to get into it,” Jay Kelley, of JMT, said. “You’re not just going to walk into the deep part.”
Though the pond is mostly utilitarian, officials see development of a park as an important component as well, much as the Newark Reservoir began as just a backup source of water but morphed into one of Newark’s most popular sites for walking, biking and other recreation.
“A hole in the ground isn’t as pretty as a hole in the ground with park amenities around it,” Filasky said.
Below is a look at the three concepts. All three preserve most of the mature trees on the property but eliminate the existing tennis courts. Each one also includes a quartermile walking/biking trail and preser ves access to the Rodney underpass, which leads to South Main Street.
To offer your comments on the project, visit www. newarkde.gov/Rodney.
An aerial photo shows the Rodney dorm site, where Newark officials hope to build a stormwater pond and park.