Some of Donovan Park to open soon |

Some of Donovan Park to open soon

Geraldine Haldner

“We are scheduled for a walk-through October first,” says Town of Vail Capital Projects Manager Todd Oppenheimer of the $7 million park project, which started six months ago.Until then, construction workers will be busy with final touch-ups,” Oppenheimer says. In addition to a custom-made playground, the 12-acre park features trails, bathrooms, a surface parking lot and a basketball court.A regulation-size soccer field, however, won’t be ready for fancy footwork and speedy dribbling anytime soon. Resembling a giant rectangular mud pit for now, the field’s schedule fell victim to this summer’s drought, says Oppenheimer. Water restrictions and limitations on the installation of new sod instituted by the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District in mid-July, “pretty much stopped us where we were at,” he says, adding that without three to four weeks of consistent watering, new sod doesn’t stand a chance to root.”It does take a lot of water to create a healthy surface, resistant enough to play on,” Oppenheimer says.So the soccer field will remain off limits until next spring, when Oppenheimer hopes he can roll out the green and give it a chance to grow.Astro-turf, the polyester-plastic version of grass, hasn’t been considered as a temporary or permanent back-up, given the park’s idyllic location just north of the Gore Creek in West Vail, he says.”It’s is really really expensive and really really ugly,” he says.Vail Public Works Director Greg Hall says no official opening ceremony is being contemplated at this time.”We’ll wait until the pavilion is done before we do that,” Hall says.Vail Town Councilwoman Diana Donovan – whose husband, John, is the park’s namesake – says the goal is to celebrate the completion of the entire park including the pavilion in early July.”We will have a grand opening the Fourth of July next year,” she says of the 5,200-square-foot community center she and fellow-councilmen Rod Slifer and Chuck Ogilby came up with after the council threw out a 6,300-square-foot modern design by San Francisco architect Scott Smith.Instead of high beams and fancy walls of windows, the new pavilion harkens back to a more simplistic and rustic style.”I think the community is going to love this pavilion,” Donovan says.If the pavilion indeed is ready by Independence Day, it took the town 23 years to go from purchase to park and make Donovan Park Pavilion the newest indoor community facility since the library opened its doors in 1983.”That was under a great administration,” jokes Slifer, who happened to be Vail’s mayor at the time the library was dedicated.”The library was the last sort of major building that was completed, so I hope finishing the park and pavilion means we are back to the real “Vail Renaissance’ and get all these things built that have been occupied us in discussion for so long.”Slifer, who disliked the Scott design, says the new pavilion is going to be “10 times better and more popular” than anyone can imagine.”We are getting calls already from people trying to book it one year out,” he says.A blank line on a short decorative wall, reserved to carry the letters of the park’s name, may remain blank for a little while longer, because the pavilion committee isn’t clear what to call the park.”There was some discussion about whether or not we should simply call it “Donovan Park’ or “Donovan Park & Pavilion,'” Slifer explains.”The history of Donovan Park- 1980 – Town acquires Donovan Park parcel for $3.8 million. Park is designated John F. Donovan Park after the former mayor and long-time resident.- 1985 – Town adopts master plan, recommending ball fields, play areas, picnic shelters, a basketball court, a pond, a parking lot on the lower 12-acre bench and a cemetery, hiking trails and open space for the middle and upper benches.- 1987 – Town develops a proposal for a cemetery.- 1995 – Vail voters reject the cemetery proposal.- 1997 to 1998 – Vail Town Council initiates Common Ground plan. The park’s lower bench is identified for affordable housing, one of 13 locations in town. Neighbors file lawsuit.- 1999 – Town directs planning staff to begin planning for a community pavilion, a gymnastics center, a community pool and other public facilities on the lower bench.- 2000 – Newly-elected Vail Town Council rescinds the Common Ground ordinances, ending legal battles.- 2001 – Town sets aside $10 million for park and pavilion projects on lower bench. San Francisco architect Scott Smith proposes 6,300-square-foot pavilion for $3.5 million. Council approves $7 million for park improvements. Construction on trails, parking lot, playground and athletic fields commences April 1.- 2002 – Council votes to throw out the Smith design because it is too expensive and big. Council assigns four members to re-design the pavilion.- August 2002 – Council approves smaller, lodge-like pavilion design by Vail Architecture Group. The cost for construction is estimated at $2.8 million. Vail Council woman Diana Donovan – wife of the park’s namesake John Donovan – says the pavilion and park will be open for fun and business July 4, 2003.Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 602 or at

Support Local Journalism