By Srianthi Perera

Gilbert officials are moving along on two floodwater detention projects that will produce two new parks – including a massive recreation area in a part of the town that has long been waiting for a substantial area for play.

Gilbert Regional Park, located in the Chandler Heights Basin near the southwest corner of Queen Creek and Higley roads, is still a glimmer in the hearts of residents in a relatively underserved part of the town.

There’s still a long time – to July 2019 – before they’ll be able to walk on its first blades of grass or lob an inaugural tennis ball.

But the design of the massive recreation space is gradually taking shape.

Dig Studio will have the plans ready by July, according to town staff, and construction of the first 30-acre phase is to begin thereafter.

Along with the regional park, the town also is developing ballfields and other recreational facilities at Rittenhouse District Park, in the northwest corner of Power and Pecos roads along the East Maricopa Floodway.

Both projects are constructed for floodwater detention enhanced with recreation facilities.

Rod Buchanan, director of Gilbert’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the first phases of both parks will cost about $17 million each, with funds coming from the town’s system development fees.

Of the two projects, which have concurrent timelines, the regional park is the more significant if only because of its 272-acre expanse.

“Phase one is going to be really important to set the tone for the rest of the park. It’s critical that we put a lot of detail and attention to this first phase,” Buchanan said.

Amenities in this phase include a playground, splash pad, six tennis courts, eight pickleball courts, six sand volleyball courts, irrigation pond and lawn. Restrooms, parking for 300 vehicles and a two-lane road leading into the park are also part of it.

Buchanan said multiple courts will be created to facilitate revenue-generating tournaments.

The first phase will be centered in the upper part of the site.

The second phase will feature an event lawn, amphitheater and lake. The lake will be in the middle of the great lawn, thus making it possible to hold two special events at once, Buchanan said.

“The event lawn will overlook the amphitheater, the lake and whole park down to the San Tan Mountains,” he said. “It’s a very beautiful venue.”

Three areas are earmarked for public-private partnerships that could produce an aquatic center and a recreation center.

The town is negotiating with private companies that responded with proposals to create recreation-based establishments in these areas. A retail complex also is planned for a later phase.

Buchanan said that upon completion of the first phase, the site will be “shovel ready” for the second phase because certain preparations will be done by then.

The park’s next phase or two and its features will depend on funding; one source will be from the sale of some parcels of town-owned land.

Meanwhile, the 115-acre Rittenhouse District Park will feature 13 multi-use fields, a half-acre irrigation lake, ramadas, restrooms and parking spots in its 30-acre first phase of development. Fifty acres of the site also have been set aside for a public safety training facility.

The conceptual design was created following extensive public outreach and input from many stakeholders, including user groups, Town Council, the parks and recreation board and staff.

Buchanan said the projects will make a substantial contribution to the quality of life in Gilbert.

The regional park will offer recreation to not only the residents in its backyard but to the region as a whole “just because of its size and its scope and the opportunities that are there,” he said.

To Buchanan himself, who counts years of similar experience leading parks administration in California, it’s a rare opportunity also.

“The reason I find this very, very exciting for our community, as I did in my previous community, is because a new park doesn’t happen very often,” he said.

“It has to be well thought out, with a lot of input and it usually, if you do it correctly, will deliver what the community wants and needs so that you can have it be highly used.

“That’s the goal of any park.”