Imagined as an oasis at the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, the Westside Community Recreation Center (Don Haskins Recreation Center) within the Three Hills (Mulberry Dam) Park in El Paso acts as a gateway to hiking the adjacent undeveloped terrain. The challenge was to turn the 100-acre detention basin that was riddled with crime and ignored by the development community into a new Westside park and recreation center – yet still, preserve the drainage ponds set up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The USACE had specific rules protecting the flood drainage ponds’ capacity. Soil could be taken out, but no fill was to be brought in.

The City of El Paso reached out to Parkhill for architectural services to develop a conceptual site plan. Engineers and hydrologists from Parkhill, while mapping the flood elevations, witnessed first-hand the flood of 2006 – termed a 100-year flood – and how it affected the detention ponds’ storage capacity. The analysis showed which portion of the land was above flood danger. Parkhill calculated about 33,000 cubic yards of cut and about 32,500 cubic yards of fill. The 30,000-square-foot recreation center, concession building for girls’ softball fields, and large picnic pavilion were sited at that highest elevation. Also at a higher elevation were trails for mountain biking and hiking; trails for beginner to intermediate skill levels; and other amenities.

The recreation center and associated outdoor amenities were included in the first phase of the master plan. Sited on a remnant parcel of flood control land, the project elevated the components, including a gym, basketball and volleyball courts, athletic fields and covered playgrounds. Preliminary collaboration with the owner and interested citizens affirmed the building as the park’s center of activity, an idea that is reflected in its radiating geometry. This design maximizes visual control for staff while orientating patrons to their destinations through a series of arches that correspond with various activities. The center stands out as a beacon against the desert landscape with both subtle and bright washes of color, while simultaneously offering patrons opportunities to connect with nature.

The Westside Community Recreation Center has proven to be an asset, both visually and physically, to the area. It now includes dog parks for large and small dogs, a spray park to beat the desert heat, and a skate park.