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The premiere public amenity of Baton Rouge, LA, long deprived of social, economic, and natural activity, is being revitalized into an ecologically sound, cultural inclusive, and safe place

The University Lakes

Client
University Lakes LLC “UL” - LSU Real Estate and Facilities Foundation
Location
Baton Rouge, LA
Size
375 acres
Services
Civil Engineering
Landscape Architecture
Planning and Urban Design
Additional Services
Community Engagement
Ecology
Status
In progress

Built by 900 men as part of the federal back-to-work program during the Great Depression, the once Cypress-Tupelo swamp was dredged and turned into Baton Rouge’s largest public park with six 20-foot-deep lakes. This provided a roadmap for today’s urban development and settlement around the 360-acre lake system. Over the years however, the idyllic vision of the lake and the associated culture around it were in conflict with nature.

Today, 65 years later, the lake system with an average depth of three-feet is at the brink of collapse with degraded water quality, failing infrastructure, and limited recreational assets for its growing use. A new vision emerges at the intersection of culture and nature, which establishes the grounds for an inclusive 21st century public space and destination for visitors.

Sasaki was awarded the project in late 2020 as Master Design firm to transform a vision for the six lakes into a reality. Working hand-in-hand with the Flood-Risk-Reduction (Stantec) consultant, Sasaki looked at how to reuse over 600,000 cubic yards of dredge material to create novel edge conditions that both provide additional recreational programs and help heal the Lakes degraded hydrology and ecological health. The team approached the project through four major goals to provide a more sustainable aquatic system, increase flood protection, enhance environmental performance and improve and diversify recreational uses.

The design team engaged with a diverse group of stakeholders, including state and local officials to develop an implementation strategy that aligned project funding with specific improvements. In addition, public engagement, including an “Our Lakes Fest” celebrated the upcoming improvements and sought to teach the public about the incredibly complex nature of the project and the options available for improving ecology and recreation.

Due to the sensitive nature of views to the lake system the team developed a software platform that allowed the proposed design to be tested from anywhere around the lake. This tool provided real-time feedback on how the design was impacting views from any particular building.

Several goals guided the design team during the development of the plan including:

  • Deepen the lakes to provide a more sustainable aquatic system: The current shallow lake depths provide for inadequate water movement, resulting in stagnation, temperature extremes, and overall poor water quality. This adversely impacts wildlife and leads to unsightly algal blooms.
  • Provide increased flood protection for upstream and downstream communities: The current lake system provides little storage for rainfall within its watershed. Dredging the lakes is expected to increase storage for excess storm water which should reduce flood risk both upstream and downstream.
  • Enhance environmental performance to improve natural habitats: In most areas the current lakeshores provide minimal-quality habitats. Reshaping and replanting the shorelines of the lakes with native species will improve both aquatic and terrestrial habitats, as well as help clean storm water before it enters the lakes. These enhancements will benefit the American white pelicans and other migratory waterfowl.
  • Improve and diversify recreational uses while improving safety for walkers, runners, and bicyclists: The lake system was built more for aesthetic reasons than for active recreational uses. The project provides an opportunity to address existing safety concerns for pedestrians and bicyclists around the lakes, and additional locations for outdoor recreation activities are desired to accommodate demand.

Phase I, which includes the May Street bridge, new sidewalks, new bike paths, and lighting, signage and wayfinding elements, began construction in summer 2022.

For more information contact Zachary Chrisco or Anna Cawrse.

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