Sign marking location of Paul J. Cochran Veterans Memorial Park
A sign on the corner of North 16th and College marks the location of the future park. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

A veterans memorial park coming soon to a Philomath neighborhood took a step forward Monday night with the City Council’s approval of its conceptual design.

Paul J. Cochran Veterans Memorial Park, to be constructed on the corner of North 16th and College streets, will be approximately one-eighth of an acre in size. If the process plays out as expected, city officials hope for construction to be substantially completed by the end of the current fiscal year, which is June 30.

Chelsea Starner, assistant city manager, provided various details to councilors about the design concept, including a few visuals to better inform them on the park’s conceptual look.

The late Beverly Durham, who was Cochran’s mother, donated the property to the city with the intention of developing it into a park named in memory of the son she lost during the Vietnam War. If delays are avoided, it could be finished a couple of months before the fifth anniversary of her death. 

LandCurrent’s Anita Van Asperdt, the same landscape architect who designed Flossie Overman Park on North 11th Street, worked with city staff and the Park Advisory Board on a finalized concept. Local veterans groups and the community provided their thoughts with some of those ideas incorporated into the design, such as benches, flower garden, flagpoles, bronze plaque and granite monument.

Landscaping, gazebo, natural area and a small playground were also included.

“The designer has taken great care to focus on the veterans’ memorial area, creating a visual line in the park to make it appear more expansive, providing privacy for neighboring properties, allowing space for landscaping, retaining orchard trees, including a maple memorial tree, and other aspects for the community to enjoy the park year-round,” Starner reported.

Passers-by might have noticed that a large tree in the park was cut down in late September. City Councilor Ruth Causey looked into the reason behind the removal and shared that it was discovered that the tree had too many dead branches and widespread rot. With tree-trimming equipment at the site, the decision was made to take it down.

The Park Advisory Board on Oct. 27 recommended that the council move forward with the design. The American Legion Mary’s River Post 100 Commander Elwin Callahan submitted a letter of support.

The council unanimously approved the conceptual design on a 7-0 vote.

With the design concept approval, the city plans to release an invitation to bid for the construction component of the project.

A conceptual design provides an overview of Paul J. Cochran Veterans Memorial Park. (Image by LandCurrent via the City of Philomath)

Much of the City Council meeting conversation around the park design centered on the playground equipment. Causey suggested that the play structures be accessible to all, including disabled adults and children. Councilor Jessica Andrade also voiced support for that type of feature in the park and also asked what options might exist for playground surfaces for accessibility purposes. Councilor Catherine Biscoe said she supported more accessible equipment as well.

Starner said the park’s architect kept accessibility in mind with the design, including several benches and a pavilion that accommodates wheelchair users. Councilor David Low suggested the use of Braille to go on signage.

Starner said the landscape architect suggested “low-profile play equipment that you can see through with very subdued colors that will blend into the background.”

Added Starner, “She worked very hard to create separation from the memorial and the play area, which is set back more and not be the focal point of the park.” 

City Manager Chris Workman said that although he’s not opposed to accessibility-focused playground equipment, he said those features would likely hike the cost significantly and that the small, veteran-focused neighborhood park might not be the best site for those amenities — unlike larger sites like Philomath City Park or the new Millpond Crossing park that will be constructed.

Causey said that she feels “it’s very important that we take this step forward” to provide accessible playground equipment. Earlier, she had mentioned a site in Albany that has those amenities with a Republic Services grant helping with the expense.

“We have not worked with a playground designer yet to see what we’ll put there and what’s feasible,” Starner had said during a report on the park’s status.

The council unanimously passed a Causey motion to ensure that accessible playground equipment be included in the park.

Starner said that in addition to the $248,100 of park system development charges funds that were budgeted for the park in the current fiscal year, supporters have also secured donations of materials and volunteer labor. She added that the city will provide further opportunities for the community to participate in the design process as the project moves forward.

Workman thanked Starner, Van Asperdt and volunteer Eric Niemann for their contributions to the project.

“I’m really excited to take the next step and get a contractor on board that’s going to work with those volunteers and groups that really keep this a community project,” Workman said.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.