Students present ideas for abandoned Gering site

December 16, 2017 GMT

GERING – With help from several UNL landscape architecture students, Gering city staff has a lot of ideas to sift through when they consider how to repurpose an abandoned site in the southeast part of the city.

The property at the dead end of South Third Street used to house B&T Metals and is now surrounded by a residential neighborhood. The city wants to know what amenities would be beneficial at the property, whether it’s a picnic shelter, a gardening area, a parking area, a playground or other ideas.

One of the challenges to redeveloping the area was an initial assessment showing that soil on the 1.6 acre property was contaminated with lead. The necessary cleanup costs could be eligible for a Brownfields grant, a program administered by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. Brownfields grants fund assessment and technical assistance for communities to clean up and reuse contaminated properties in a sustainable way.

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In the fall, eight students, all juniors, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Landscape Architecture Program visited the area to assess the site, visit with surrounding residents and host a public hearing to gather input for possible uses. An online survey was also conducted.

Their instructor, Assistant Professor Catherine De Almeida, works with Brownfields redevelopment projects.

“We start with reviewing projects of the same size that had similar challenges,” she said. “When the students inspected the site, they looked at transportation access, soil and geology, and open space to give them a preliminary understanding.”

After community input was gathered, students developed possible uses for the property. Some ideas included a soccer field, a community plaza, a butterfly garden, an activity center and many others.

“Some student projects focused more on a community garden aspect,” De Almeida said. “Others centered on a recreational aspect. All eight students came up with very different ideas.”

She said a big challenge is that the neighborhood is isolated from the rest of Gering and access is limited. Several student projects suggested opening up adjoining alleys and streets, or even building a walkway across the adjoining railroad tracks into neighboring Hampton Park.

Gering City Planner Annie Folck said she was amazed by the variety of student presentations.

“They came up with a lot of great ideas for the site and showed sheer creativity. Some of their ideas might even apply to other projects the city is working on. This opened our eyes to what our options could be.”

Student Jacob Jurgens envisioned a multi-purpose activity park to include skating in the winter and a water park in the summer. Fellow classmate Keely Anderson focused more on transportation and getting the neighborhood opened up and more connected into Gering proper.

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Although now retired, Mike Sarchet has a lot of experience in working on Brownfields projects and consulting with interested groups.

“Young people always envision opportunities differently than older generations,” he said. “It’s exciting to look at these eight different presentations and see parts of each that are really practical and could be implemented into the community. The students did a great job on their projects.”

He said he’s also excited to see possible redevelopment in one of the oldest, socio-economically underserved and neglected parts of the city.