Standing beneath the curved structures in Confluence Park feels a bit like being inside a great concrete flower, its petals not yet opened to the sky.

In fact, “petals” is the term designers used for the pieces that now adorn what was once a five-acre CPS Energy construction storage yard near the Southside spot where San Pedro Creek meets the San Antonio River.

For the past 18 months, construction crews have been working on the project, which will have its formal unveiling Wednesday, Jan. 17. Thirty-six percent of funding came from the City of San Antonio and Bexar County, with the remainder coming from private contributions to the San Antonio River Foundation, said Robert Amerman, the foundation’s executive director.

Design and construction costs were $10.7 million, and two $1 million endowments were created for the park – one for education and one for operation and maintenance, Amerman said.

“This park is for everyone,” said Frates Seeligson, the park’s director. “We want everyone in San Antonio to use this park.”

The park is meant to be a versatile education and community space that integrates nature in every possible way, Amerman said. He and and Seeligson on Friday offered local media a preview of the site at 310 W. Mitchell St. south of downtown.

Everywhere visitors look, they will see examples of nature-based design. The once-flat park has been contoured to channel rainwater, and plantings of native cacti, yucca, and shrubs are designed to help slow down the water and filter out pollutants.

Confluence Park aerial view
An aerial few of Confluence Park, facing west. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

The petals also will act as immense water-channelers. The smaller ones weigh 28,000 pounds and are 20 feet tall, and the larger ones weigh 40,000 pounds and are 29 feet tall, Amerman said.

Water running off the surface of the park will percolate through layers of native plants, soil, and filter fabric down to a series of 12,600 milk-crate-shaped tanks known as Atlantis chambers, Amerman said.

Water stored there can be recycled to irrigate the landscape and to flush toilets inside a small classroom space on site. The entire park is capable of handling 286,000 gallons of stormwater a year, Amerman said, enough to fill about 40 percent of an Olympic-sized pool.

A bridge crosses the land in which an underground rain water harvesting cistern is buried.
A bridge spans ground in which an underground rainwater harvesting cistern is buried. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Inside the classroom, Seeligson said local students and community groups will be able to check out equipment like microscopes and laptops. They can go outside to observe nature directly and return to apply technology to a stone, a leaf, or a dragonfly wing.

“People learn better when they can see it and touch it,” Seeligson said.

One of the first entities interested in using the space will be the Southwest School of Art, which will hold a series of two-week summer camps for about 15 to 20 students each, said Patricia Morales, director of young artist programs.

There, students will be able to integrate science, nature, and art through sessions on making natural dyes, learning about adobe architecture, and other similar techniques.

With a subsidy from the San Antonio Area Foundation, tuition will be only $50 per week. Morales said she and Seeligson have been working to offer the camps to students in the surrounding Southside neighborhoods who may not have previously had such opportunities.

“It just looks super serene,” Morales said of the space. “It’s this nice place to get away in the middle of the community.”

The roof of the classroom hosts a 14.4-kilowatt solar array, making the whole place net-zero on energy use, Amerman said.

The landscape of the site has also been designed to showcase San Antonio’s diverse natural areas, focusing on five ecotypes: arid semi-desert, live oak savannah, Texas grasslands, a mixed oak forest, and a riparian zone meant to mimic the restoration work on the Mission Reach.

A little work still remains, Amerman explained, saying that cold weather this winter slowed the concrete casting process down and delayed the project about two weeks. Everything should be done by the end of the month, he said.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.