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Foam blocks form hilly landscape at Maggie Daley Park site

Maggie Daley Park is being formed using GeoFoam plastic foam substance thhasbeen used since '80s create landscapes hills otherwise flland.

Maggie Daley Park is being formed using GeoFoam, a plastic foam substance that hasbeen used since the '80s to create landscapes and hills on otherwise flat land. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

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Updated: May 15, 2014 6:03AM



Chicago’s shoveling days should be over, but the future Maggie Daley Park kind of looks like a winter wonderland, full of white building blocks.

Those giant blocks of Geofoam will transform flat land into a hilly landscape at the park site, which spans 20 acres and is bordered on the west by Columbus, the north by Randolph, the south by Monroe and the east by Lake Shore Drive.

Landscape architects say the lightweight, cost-effective, environmentally safe and recyclable fill materiala key to creativity. The expanded polystyrene is being used around the world and locally to contour flat Midwestern land.

At Maggie Daley Park, crews are using old Geofoam — already part of Daley Bicentennial Plaza — and a lot of new blocks to shape the park. From various vantage points around the park, onlookers can watch as the foam is delivered every day — six truckloads — and crews have already filled the northeast and northwest corners of the park, and are moving south.

The foam installation will be done by early summer. By September, dirt will be placed over the foam. It’s even being used for the park’s ice skating ribbon.

“For the ice ribbon, you’ve got up and down. It’s not just flat,” said Lowell Zarzueta, of Walsh Construction, who is overseeing part of the second phase of the project. “For you to go up high, you almost have to skate super fast, just to get over that little hump.”

He said the foam is being used to create a hill that will be even with Randolph Street, making it easy for people to come into the park. There are also peaks at the northeast corner, where a picnic area is being built.

“With Maggie Daley Park, you’re going to have hills. The park will offer these beautiful vistas of Lake Michigan, which it never had there,” said Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy. “In order to do that, to get these hills, and these rolling meadows over a whole flat area in Chicago, to get any topography, especially on top of a structure, you need Geofoam.”

Crews on Friday said deliveries of Geofoam are about half done. The mass quantity of snow Chicago received this year did slow work a bit, but crews said phase two of the park — earthwork, utilities, paving, architectural and program elements, soil placement and planting — is on schedule for completion in October.

Here’s how crews are layering the park: First it was excavated, the dirt placed in nearby Peanut Park to be reused. Tar was put over the garage, then a layer of black tarp. It’s then tested to make sure it’s waterproofed to prevent leaks to the garage below. Four inches of stone are placed on top, and then the foam is placed with yet another black tarp over it. Dirt will go over the foam.

Come next spring, the ground will become green again, as landscaping and planting will be in full swing.

This isn’t the first time the product has been used in Chicago. It was also used for the Daley Plaza renovation — where the trees are now planted, and for the Soldier Field remodeling, where Geofoam was placed as fill over the garage, creating a hilly and grassy landscape near Soldier Field and the Field Museum.

Peter Schaudt, the landscape architect behind both renovations, said Geofoam played a major role in the projects.

“I think it allows you the freedom to be creative,” said Schaudt, of Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects. “It allows you to really model the land in an artificial way, and the great thing is when you put the soil and lawn and trees on top of it, it’s an illusion.”

The product also is very strong, he said. “It never dematerializes. It stays the same size. At Soldier Field, it was used to support 18,000 pounds.

“It’s much more substantial than just putting a thin veneer over a roof, and it allows you to create a lot of great and dramatic changes,” Schaudt said.

A soft opening for the $55 million park, named for the late wife of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, is scheduled for fall, and the park will be officially completed by spring 2015. A park district website, maggiedaleyparkconstruction.org features two webcams to view the construction.

Email: tsfondeles@suntimes.com

Twitter: @TinaSfon



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