If you’ve recently driven to the Springfield Art Museum, or perhaps the Perry Tennis Courts or Phelps Grove Park, and you have asked yourself, “When is this construction going to be finished?” — you’re not alone.
March 15 marks a year’s passage since work began to transform Fassnight Creek through a storied section of Springfield.
When the work is done in the spring of this year, the lands immediately south and west of the Springfield Art Museum will be transformed to control water runoff from storms and to encourage Springfield residents and visitors to walk along the creek.
About 1,000 feet of concrete channel will be removed in favor of a more natural creek flowing along Brookside Drive. The project area is about 1.5 acres. Workers contracted through Hartman and Company were hired in 2020 to make sewer main improvements, realign the road and repave East Brookside Drive.
“There is a lot of landscaping work with native Missouri species that has yet to be installed,” said Kristen Milam, Communication Coordinator for the city of Springfield. “Crews are also still working on masonry work on the headwall at Kings [Avenue] and the installation of handrails on the bridges. Brookside Drive will also be milled and overlaid with new asphalt.”
The contract allows for a mid-April completion date, but Milam said Hartman and Company expects to be finished with Brookside Drive by the end of March.
The plan also calls for segmented block retaining walls and concrete bridges that will carry pedestrians, not cars, on and off the art museum grounds.
“The construction includes naturalized installations, including rock pools and native Missouri plantings,” according to the bid specifications.
The $3.1 million project is funded through a mix of grants, a Missouri Department of Natural Resources grant, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 319 grant funded through the Clean Water Act and a Missouri Department of Conservation Grant. Twenty percent of the cost, or about $620,000, is funded through Springfield’s 1/4-cent capital improvement sales tax. The 1/4-cent sales tax was tentatively scheduled to fund about $23.9 million in projects from 2019-2024, including $7.6 million worth of flood control projects.
In October 2021, the Springfield Department of Public Works announced some delays for the Fassnight Creek project’s timeline. Hartman and Company had reportedly completed the sewer line relocations and conducted excavation and grading along the creek. The contractor also installed piers for the two pedestrian bridges just south of the art museum.
According to the Department of Public Works, the contractor ran into delays with material acquisition and with hiring subcontractors on time. In an ongoing trend in 2022 construction, materials can be hard to come by, contractors are busy and subcontractors often have a hard time meeting precise timelines because of their own work schedules.
Crews slowed the project in January and February because of cold weather. Work on Brookside Drive continues, as does the installation of stone and native landscaping features.
“We are thankful for the patience and support of the neighborhoods and Art Museum as we construct this transformational project,” project manager Kirkland Preston said in a press release. “As the general shape of the channel and pools have taken shape, one promising sign is that a couple ducks and other wildlife have been seen enjoying the waterway. This return to nature is what we’re aiming for with the project and is a sign that these improvements will be worth the wait.”
One of the art museum master plan’s key goals is to make the grounds off of National Avenue more connected and more accessible to Springfield’s trail system. The pending development of the pedestrian Grant Avenue Parkway is a factor in the plan for the Fassnight Creek Greenway Trail that will connect National Avenue to Grant Avenue.
A project to relocate a parking lot to the north side of the museum property and better connect the museum grounds to Phelps Grove Park is also underway. In the future, more parking will be on the north side of the museum property, and parking lots on the east side of the building will be converted to become expanded parts of the building.
“The parking lot is expected to be complete in June,” Milam said. “We anticipate this will be followed closely with the beginning of construction on a multi-use trail that will extend from Clay Avenue through Phelps Grove Park and connect to the Art Museum property.”
The trail will go east through the park, across Virginia Avenue and Kings Avenue and end at Brookside Drive on the art museum grounds. The path will be about 1,600 feet long with ADA-compliant ramps.
“This project will include the installation of the bridge decking for the pedestrian bridge located nearest the entrance to the Art Museum,” Milam said.
The Fassnight Creek trail project is funded through federal Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grants with the city funding a 20-percent match through the 1/8-cent transportation sales tax.
The Grant Avenue Parkway project is a plan to create an off-street pedestrian and bicycle pathway along Grant Avenue from Sunshine Street to College Street in downtown Springfield. The south hub of the Grant Avenue Parkway project area is the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium on Sunshine Street. The northern hub is the IDEA Commons at Mill Street, with a proposed center city loop around part of downtown Springfield.
The Springfield Art Museum’s $25 million master plan for development also calls for Brookside Drive, which runs along the south side of the museum from National Avenue, to be made into a boulevard that serves to welcome guests into the museum. The master plan also calls for changes to the museum’s west entrance, which would be reoriented toward an outdoor amphitheater, the museum lawn and Fassnight Creek.
The Springfield Art Museum received a Sunderland Foundation grant in 2020 in the amount of half a million dollars to relocate a parking lot. On March 3, Springfield Art Museum Director Nick Nelson announced that the city received a $5 million Sunderland Foundation grant to accelerate the timeline of a museum redevelopment project to 2028, the museum’s 100-year anniversary.