In Maple Grove, U+B designs a park pavilion that doubles as a warming house

By Joel Hoekstra

Good things are worth waiting for. In Maple Grove, a suburban community northwest of Minneapolis, the most recent evidence that patience pays off is Central Park, an urban green space built on an old gravel pit. The plan for the 40-acre park was hatched in 1986, but it took three decades of effort to get the amenity built.

The “urban” park, whose primary green space is a great lawn rather than the ball fields that compose the core of many suburban recreation areas, opened in 2015. The landscape design, by Damon Farber Associates, includes a formal garden area; a labyrinth; a network of trails; four pickleball courts; a 200-foot-diameter, ADA-accessible playground; and a 2,100-square-foot interactive fountain and splash pad where kids of all ages can play and cool off on hot summer days. But Central Park’s most notable attraction is an 810-foot-long skating loop—the first of its kind in Minnesota.

From the start, the refrigerated track has been a hit with skaters. “So far, more than 63,000 people have used the ice trail,” says Chuck Stifter, the city’s parks and recreation director.

Architecture also plays a key role in the park: Adjacent to the splash pad and skating trail is a glassed-in pavilion that doubles as a warming house in winter. Designed by U+B Architecture and Design, the building contains restrooms, a snack bar, and an open space where visitors can strap on their skates in winter or gather in summer.

“The members of the park board were divided about the kind of design they wanted,” says U+B’s Edie Sebesta, Assoc. AIA, who managed the project. “Roughly half wanted a Northwoods lodge. Half wanted something contemporary. Our design combines those two ideas into a modern, urban lodge-style structure.”

Named after the city’s longtime park board member Tim Phenow, the 12,900-square-foot Phenow Pavilion is a focal point within the park. The gables of the A-frame roof that covers part of the structure are glass, exposing a red-cedar-lined interior that glows warmly at night. Dormers with banded windows allow additional light into the interior. Faced with brick, stone, and wood, the pavilion is both contemporary and cabin-y. “There are approaches to the building from all four directions,” notes U+B’s Nate Golin, AIA, the project’s lead designer. “So there was a lot of pressure to make the design attractive from every angle.”

Most visitors arriving at the park in winter stop in the warming house to strap on their skates. Special movable benches designed by U+B feature cubbies where bags and gear can be stored, and durable rubber mats protect the floor from damage. “Phenow had to meet the same standards as any other park or civic building,” says Golin, “except we had to think about the fact that everyone is essentially walking around with knives on their feet.”

Other amenities include a rental counter for skates, a concessions area where visitors can grab a cup of cocoa or some hot nachos, and a small staging area for catering services. (The building can be rented for private events.) Large barn doors can be rolled closed when concessions and rentals are no longer open. Restrooms are housed in a separate wing, so users can avoid events going on in the pavilion.

Outside, a flat-roofed pergola shades picnickers in summer, and ample bike racks along one side of the building encourage cyclists to stop and linger on the park grounds. There’s also a two-sided fire pit that glimmers at night, with a view of the skating track.

“The entire park affords such a rich experience year-round,” says Golin. “We were very intentional in developing a continuous relationship between inside and outside. The boundaries frequently blur, enhancing the overall experience for the community.”

“We’ve been impressed with how well the building works with the track and splash pad,” says Stifter. “It’s not only functional and adaptable; it’s also attractive. It definitely feels like an urban lodge.”

Location: Maple Grove, Minnesota
Client: City of Maple Grove
Architect: U+B Architecture and Design
Project manager: Edie Sebesta, Assoc. AIA
Project architect: Nate Golin, AIA
Landscape architect: Damon Farber Associates
Construction manager: RJM
Size: 12,900 square feet
Cost: $5 million
Completion: September 2015
Photographer: Andrea Rugg