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11-09-22 | Feature

HELIX Environmental Planning, La Mesa, California

Firms of Northern California
by Staff

HELIX Environmental Planning (HELIX) is a California-based employee-owned firm and a leader in environmental planning and natural resource sustainability. Established in 1991, HELIX provides a broad range of environmental consulting and design services throughout California. HELIX's landscape architecture team thrives on supporting public and private clients with park, open space, and restoration design. HELIX's landscape architecture team creates tailored designs focused on enhancing the value of every project for clients, the community, and the environment. They offer a range of services including development of concept/master plans, facilitating community outreach, developing planning documents, and preparing construction documents. HELIX works on a diverse range of projects including parks and recreation, public spaces, open space and trails, habitat restoration, public education, streetscapes, and private developments.

The Preserve at District56, Elk Grove, CA

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The Preserve at District56 is located in the City of Elk Grove's 56-acre civic center complex (District56), and is the City's largest natural park space. The Preserve centers around the 4.5-acre perennial pond, which was converted from a low-functioning seasonal marsh, with a picnic overlook, bridge crossing, and retention of mature trees on four islands which provide beauty and wildlife habitat outside of the human use area. North of the pond is the active park area. This features a custom-designed play area that has a pond-inspired 2 to 5-year old play area and an incredibly popular 5 to 12-year old play area. Adjacent to the playground is a sensory garden plaza with native animal tracks, musical instruments, a tactile wall illustrating the life cycle of a frog, and a border of sensory plants with interesting colors, scent, and textures. Moving toward the civic center is an event lawn, picnic shelter, restroom, and fitness court. South and east of the pond is the more natural open space area with walking and biking trails, native grassland and oak tree restoration, interpretive signs, bat boxes, constructed burrowing owl habitat, and a preserved historic silo and pistachio orchard. The project also included completion of additional parts of the existing parking lots and coordination of infrastructure and fencing for a future solar array. HELIX led the project team, which included civil, electrical, structural, hydrologic, and geotechnical engineers, to finalize the conceptual plan, facilitate public meetings, and prepare construction documents for the approximately 30-acre park. The project was awarded the 2021 Outstanding Parks and Recreation Project by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Sacramento Section.

Downtown Dixon Plaza, Dixon, CA

Above: Development of the Downtown Dixon Plaza transformed a gravel parking lot into a vibrant central plaza in the City of Dixon's downtown core. Due to its central location, the design was developed with significant public outreach including public workshops, designs from local high school students, and ad hoc committee input. The plaza concept was ultimately refined into a central bandstand for major city events and everyday use, a grassy audience area, picnic tables, and perimeter parking. The perimeter parking is shaded with canopies that, when the parking lot is closed, create a space for events including farmers' markets, food truck events, or vintage car shows. The project was designed using permeable pavers throughout to retain all the water from a 100-year storm event onsite. This project was broken into two phases, with construction of Phase 1 including utilities, sidewalks, lighting, and an extensive permeable paver plaza and parking lot. Phase 2 construction included the bandstand, entrance archway, clock tower, picnic area, seat walls, covered parking and pergola structures, and landscaping. HELIX managed the project design team through development of a master plan, phasing plan, and construction documents. HELIX also prepared the California Environmental Quality Act document and provided grant support and construction administration assistance.

Nicolaus Diary, Sacramento, CA

Left: Nicolaus Dairy is a historic farm with historically significant structures including a 1914 craftsman farmhouse, a 1920s chicken coop, and a 1949 California-style walkthrough dairy. The landscape needed to provide space for field trips and history groups, and highlight sustainable agriculture from historic to modern times. HELIX collaborated with an advisory committee consisting of educators, Dairy Council members, permaculture experts, and a Nicolaus family descendant. Historical elements included preservation of the old water pump, re-creating a historic flower garden and kitchen garden, and using heirloom fruit trees. The plan emphasizes conservation practices, including the use of reclaimed water for irrigation, combined with low water use plantings and smart (weather-based) irrigation control. Sustainable design is achieved through permaculture practices, such as native and pollinator plantings, kitchen garden near the house, understory plantings, windbreak, hedgerows, and a composting area. A unique approach to hands-on learning opportunities was the development of an installation manual to assist student groups in the construction of some of the site elements such as the bioswale, pollinator garden, straw-bale seat walls, raised gardening beds, interpretive signs, and chicken run. The site design accommodates groups through large gathering spaces for demonstrations, classroom discussions, group picnic area, and large parking lot to accommodate buses and cars. The Sacramento Chapter of American Public Works Association selected the Nicolaus Dairy project for a Project of the Year award in 2019 in the Historical Restoration/Preservation Category.

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