Architects, engineers team chosen for LSU lakes project

Plans to salvage and revitalize the slowly dying Baton Rouge lakes inched closer to reality with Monday’s selection of the team of architects and engineers that will spearhead the project.

SWA Group, an international landscape architecture and urban design company, was selected from a group of four finalists that pitched their visions at a community meeting Monday.

Kinder Baumgardner, president of SWA Group, says the company specializes in projects that promote healthy living.

“The right kind of landscapes motivate people to do certain activities, whether it’s something mundane like jogging or walking or if it’s helping people meet their neighbors and feel safer in their cities,” he said.

SWA Group also has experience transforming waterways and creating aquatic systems. For example, it led the Buffalo Bayou Promenade project in Houston. The bayou was previously considered an abandoned waterway.

“It had completely degraded over time and was considered wastewater infrastructure,” Baumgardner said. “It was transformed into the premier open space for the city of Houston. It transformed the way people think about Houston and the way the city thinks about itself.”

The Baton Rouge lakes, on any given day the site of scores of runners, walkers and bikers, were created in the 1930s out of a stretch of swampland. But the lakes have been slowly drying up over the years. They are currently less than 3 feet deep.

SWA, in conjunction with local firm Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects, will plan a comprehensive design and plan for revitalizing the lakes and the 45 acres surrounding them. Planners also will have to identify funding sources.

Baumgardner said it’s not yet clear what method will be used — whether dredging, draining or excavating — to preserve the lakes. But he said the community and LSU will have input about the process.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended dredging the lakes in a 2008 study, which was shelved in part because of the high costs associated with the work. Baumgardner said he thinks a nonprofit should be formed to take “quasi-ownership” of the lakes and oversee fundraising efforts.

It will take about a year to develop the master plan, he said.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which initiated the efforts to save the lakes, raised about $750,000 for the planning costs. BRAF also led the team that selected SWA Group on Monday.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/