Centennial Mayor Cathy Noon, members of the city council and more than 300 residents gathered in the Festival Plaza of Centennial Center Park in late April to celebrate the grand opening of Centennial’s first civic park. Design Concepts of Lafayette, a community and landscape architecture firm specializing in parks, multigenerational play areas and schools, designed the master plan for the park.

Photo courtesy of Design Concepts
The parks playground complex is sunken, surrounded by walls and trees, and offers parents and other childcare providers good views of the entire playground area.

The 11-acre park is located next to the Centennial Civic Center on the city’s main east-west artery, Arapahoe Road, between South Revere Parkway and South Vaughn Way.

City Councilman Ron Weidmann said that Centennial Center Park “has brought Centennial citizens and others together in one grand spot. It has become a destination park for the region.”

As one of Colorado’s newest cities, incorporated in 2001, Centennial wanted a central gathering place for the community. With 100,000 residents in 28.7 sq miles, the city spans approximately 14 miles east to west and three to four miles north to south, and is shaped like a bow tie. The park is located in the city’s center and brings the east and west sides together, providing easy access to all residents.

“City officials wanted a place people could call home,” said Axel Bishop, Design Concepts project principal-in-charge. “More importantly, they wanted a place where people could gather as a community.”

Design Concepts began the master planning process in 2009, when the firm conducted a series of public meetings to determine the community’s preferences for the park’s character and amenities. The Centennial City Council approved the park master plan in 2010, and construction began in January 2011.

The firm’s design for a safe and comfortable environment for all ages called for shaping the land to create overlooks and a more contoured topography. The Butte, the dominant high viewing hill, was formed by soil removed from carving out the grassy amphitheater.

The Festival Plaza, a gathering point in the center of the park, connects the grand entryway, extensive playgrounds, shelters, the butte, amphitheater, and parking. All of the gathering places are close together to allow for socializing with friends and neighbors.

The firm used the concept of outdoor rooms radiating out of a hub to provide a variety of experiences and to allow people to be near each other while also having a sense of protection in smaller and more intimate places.

There are several open park-like shelters. The main shelter includes a picnic pavilion with a gas fireplace warming area and comfortable restrooms. A plaza overlook shelter has WiFi and the feel of a coffee house—a place with built-in stone “couches” and skylights, where visitors can commune with each other or use their laptops. On top of the “coffee house” shelter is a covered plaza overlook where visitors can keep an eye on children playing below and take in the skyline views of the park and the mountains to the west.

The playground complex itself is sunken, surrounded by walls and trees, and feels protected—parents and other caregivers can see everyone. Other areas for active play include climbing walls (one features a map of Colorado), a state-of-the-art rocks and ropes course, a spray park, a sledding hill, a meadow, and a drainage area with stepping-stones crossing a natural wetlands.

The park’s custom design is intended to convey the passage of time, which is articulated through the nautilus shape of the central playground complex and the integration of arches, spirals and curves in the park’s structures. Among the park’s educational elements, the main plaza showcases the historic timeline of the Cherry Creek Basin, including fun facts and a map of the Cherry Creek Watershed. The amphitheater’s design incorporates elements that represent the four periods of human history: Lithic, Archaic, Formative and Classic.

There are multiple walking loops of varying lengths. The Colorado Statehood Walk displays interesting facts about Colorado, and the Viewfinder Walk provides an interactive trivia challenge, taking visitors on a quest through the park and highlighting viewpoints within and outside of the park boundaries.

“Our Centennial Center Park is a gem,” said Mayor Noon after the grand opening. “Axel Bishop and Design Concepts listened to our community, understood our vision and designed a remarkable gathering place for the city of Centennial. We all look forward to many years of enjoyment.”

SLATERPAULL Architects of Denver performed the architecture, and Aurora’s Merrick & Co. engineers designed an innovative drainage system that became part of the park’s play and education features