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Madison park along Isthmus getting new athletic fields, lighting system, basketball court

Madison park along Isthmus getting new athletic fields, lighting system, basketball court

Field photo for A1

Burr Jones Park is mostly mud right now, but by next spring it will hold a two Ultimate Frisbee fields and new stormwater management systems.

As the East Side eagerly awaits the 2021 arrival of the long-anticipated Madison Public Market, next door construction is already underway for major upgrades at a city park.

A popular spot for Ultimate Frisbee, Burr Jones Park is getting a significant face-lift with much-improved athletic fields, a lighting system, a new basketball court and an updated parking lot — all set to be completed this spring.

“We’re pretty excited about these improvements,” said Mike Sturm, landscape architect with the Madison Parks Division. “I think it’s going to help continue to make the greater East Washington Avenue corridor a vibrant place.”

Burr Jones Park

Ald. Syed Abbas, whose 12th District includes the park, said the update will “create nice color and flavor” for the community and potentially bring more businesses to the East and Near East sides. He said his district has a lot of “untapped” potential.

“These types of developments — the public market, athletic field — actually bring the attention of the people to this side of town,” Abbas said.

The space will have markings for two Ultimate Frisbee fields or one adult soccer field. Abbas said it will be a long-lasting, “state-of-the-art” facility.

Abbas said some residents were frustrated that the park will only have one basketball court instead of two. But making the field larger left room for only one court at the park, he said.

Basketball court - jump

Groundwork is done for a new basketball court on the northeastern side of the park. 

Expanded landscaping and a water retention system to prevent flooding will also be added to the park.

Together, the improvements will come at a price tag for the city of around $900,000, Sturm said.

High demand

Sturm said with recent high-rise residential developments on East Washington Avenue, there has been increased demand for the athletic fields.

The LED lighting system will allow for extended use of the fields, especially during late fall and early spring when there are shortened daylight hours.

“With the high density, we want to make sure that we can accommodate as many teams, as many leagues and as many people as possible,” Abbas said. “Giving them that opportunity to play in the evening and night checks that box. We can use that facility at its maximum, at its peak.”

The light fixtures are specially designed to have a sharp cutoff, preventing light from spilling into the surrounding neighborhood and reducing glare. Lighting will only be used during scheduled events on the field, which will save energy, Sturm said.

For the first year, the field will not be available for reservations, but residents can still use it on an unscheduled basis. Sturm said the “rigor of continuous use” from bookings would prevent the field from developing properly.

Upgrades needed

The impetus for the project was the poor condition of the old parking lot, Sturm said, but other areas also needed an upgrade.

The asphalt of the basketball courts was cracking, deteriorating and unlevel. With the improvements, the pavement for the court will be deeper, providing a more stable surface that will last longer, Sturm said.

On the fields, water tended to collect in certain areas and destroy parts of the turf. But come spring, there will be a water retention basin that will hold stormwater and reduce runoff. The area will be planted with native prairie plants that help absorb water.

Water retention basin - jump

A depression in the ground at the south end of Burr Jones Park marks the location of a stormwater retention basin. A popular spot for Ultimate Frisbee, the park is getting a significant face-lift with much-improved athletic fields, a lighting system, a new basketball court and an updated parking lot — all set to be completed this spring.

Abbas said the improvements will make the park more resilient.

“Madison is growing so fast, so whatever project we are doing today will serve the community for the next 20, 30 years,” Abbas said.

Environmentally conscious

Throughout the project, improving the environment has been top of mind for the city, Sturm said.

He said the retention basin will be one small step in the direction of addressing runoff problems that lead to flooding in the area. It will also reduce sediment build-up in the water, making stormwater runoff cleaner.

More than 150 shrubs and perennials will be planted, as well as 12 large trees to provide shade, Sturm said.

The lights for the field were also selected with the environment in mind, as LED lights are more energy efficient than most-other types of lighting, Sturm added.

Sturm hopes having a lighted field on the Isthmus will encourage more people to walk or bike instead of driving to the other side of town to play Ultimate Frisbee at night.

“Rather than having to drive to the far east or far west edges of Madison for access to athletic fields, people can walk, people can bike,” Sturm said. “It really does reduce vehicle trips. It’s just more accessible.”

Construction is slated to be completed in May.


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Emily Hamer is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She joined the paper in April 2019 and was formerly an investigative reporting intern at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

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