As a massive reconstruction of a Baltimore reservoir at Druid Hill Park nears completion, the project is set to move to a new phase: reimagining a destination shoreline with artwork, swimming, biking and other amenities for city residents.
In the meantime, Baltimoreans and commuters can expect a reprieve from construction and roadwork before the next stage gets underway.
City Department of Public Works officials are estimating that a $135 million portion of the project to install huge underground tanks for a new reservoir is on schedule for completion in Spring 2022.
“The timeline that was presented was a bit under five years, and so we’re basically nearing 90 percent of that time, and we have completed a bit over 90 percent of the work,” said project manager Omar Morsey. “I think that’s where we want to be in the project schedule.”
Barring unforeseen delays, Morsey said a March 2022 completion estimate looks on target.
The department is currently working along Druid Park Lake Drive to install pipes to connect new below-ground tanks to the city’s water system and fill in a new lakefront.
“For the upcoming period there will still be some effects to traffic on Druid Park Lake Drive as construction crews finish up the pipework that they need to get the reservoir tanks up and running,” Morsey said.
The tanks now installed under Druid Lake will store more than 50 million gallons of drinking water for city residents. The lake is a major portion of the city’s water supply, and is a defining feature of the 745-acre Druid Hill Park, Baltimore’s first large municipal park, which is also home to the Maryland Zoo.
“You want to keep the water safe so you can keep the residents safe,” Morsy said. “With these tanks underground they’re way less susceptible to any kind of external pollution. Most of it is environmental factors, but there’s also the security aspects as well.”
With drinking water held in the tanks, there will be less exposure to outside factors and less treatment required of the water.
Officials also touted reduced costs for water treatment once the tanks are online. Though residents may not see a drop on their water bills, the savings can be reallocated to other areas needed to maintain and improve the entire water system.
Most of Druid Lake will remain a recreational amenity, officials said. Baltimore City Recreation and Parks is now working on developing plans to imagine what the park surrounding the lake could look like in the future.
“The DPW project is primarily an engineering project, and at the end of the day there is new open space on top of the tanks, but there are very few amenities associated with that,” said Adam Boarman, the recreation department’s chief of capital development. “When their project stops, that’s when Rec and Parks has an opportunity to realize a greater vision.”
The recreation department is currently developing a visioning plan for the park that should wrap up this fall. The department would then move onto defining what is a priority for the first phase of reimagining the park along the lake.
“In my mind I see the potential as tremendous,” Boarman said. “The goal is for it to be a destination. We want people to come and spend the day in Druid Hill Park.”
Potential amenities on the lake might include swimming, boating and fishing. The vision plan also includes developing food service and dining at the park along the lake.
The city also plans to restore the loop around the lake for cycling, running and walking. City planners are also working to include more and safer access to the park from the surrounding neighborhood.
An amphitheater and public art installations are also on the table.
City planners are also exploring options that include wetlands and connecting the manmade lake to some of the natural geology and hydrology in the park in order to maintain a healthier lake system.
“The existing lake is a sterile, chlorinated drinking reservoir, and our goal is to convert that to a habit-sustaining body of water,” Boarman said, pointing to public interest in fishing and birding. “Druid Hill as part of its early history, there is some natural springs and running water, and that was part of the draw (to the park) early on and part of our efforts will be to connect to some of that natural geology and hydrology,”
Boarman warned that the project would be a multiyear plan to realize the entire vision and the community visioning is just a first step. Implementing some or all of the plan will require additional funding allocation from the city in future budgeting cycles.
“We see this project as both a neighborhood project that will directly impact the surrounding neighborhoods and also Druid Hill is a regional park. We understand that we need to collect input from people all around the city that come see it,” he said.
The city hosted two community meetings online to discuss the proposed visions, reached out to residents in neighborhoods surrounding the park and hosted online surveys.
Another community meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. This in-person meeting is scheduled at the Sundial Pavilion inside the park.