A giant helium-filled orange balloon carrying 30 passengers 400 feet aloft at the old El Toro Marine Air Base, in Irvine, California, can be seen for miles from the flat Orange County landscape, in Southern California. On Thursdays through Sundays it gives visitors a bird's-eye view of work in progress on a 1,347-acre park that will rival New York's Central Park, according to Great Park planners.
In July, 2005, Lennar/Heritage Fields, a development firm, bought the 4,700-acre decommissioned El Toro base from the U.S. Navy for $649.5 million. Lennar/Heritage then deeded the center 1,347 acres to the city of Irvine for the Great Park. Plans call for construction of three mixed-use developments surrounding the park, including housing. The Great Park is open to the general public and when finished will include extensive natural habitat areas and much open space, as well as recreational and cultural sites. So far, the schedule is on target.
From 400 feet up, visitors will see in the next few years:
- Recycled Materials Company (RMC, based in Arvada, Colo.) performing concrete demolition of nearly 10 miles of runways and taxiways. Runway depths are from 1.5 feet from the WWII era to nearly 4 feet for the jet age fleets. All will be crushed on site into useable base-sized aggregates for Great Park roadways, and for use to aid in run-off water percolation. Some 3.5 million tons of concrete and steel from the former Air Station will be recycled and used at Orange County's Great Park. It will also be considered the largest concrete demolition project in the U.S. in 2008, according to Great Park planners.
- Some 1,300 remedial clean-up sites are on the property, according to Pat Fuscoe, president of Fuscoe Engineering, overseeing the entire project. Most are fairly benign — landfills, tires, wood, trash. Although there is a jet fuel plume under the property, it is solvable. The local water district is pumping it out, filtering that water and placing it back into the ground. The U.S. Navy is paying for this remediation.
- Excavation of a 30-foot to 60-foot deep, 2.5-mile-long canyon — with footbridges being constructed.
- Tierra Verde Industries (based in Irvine, Calif.) demolishing numerous base buildings and recycling tons of wood, glass and steel from barracks and hangers — reducing some 300,000 tons of wood into mulch to be used on-site.
- Several miles of asphalt and concrete being crushed and recycled into Lennar Development's new streets and sidewalks.
- Construction of the many other facets of the Great Park that are listed below ...
Demolition may take three years, while the Great Park may be completed some years past that.