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Washington Square project nearing completion

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Geoffrey Robinson, a contractor, brings down his fork to break up soil while digging holes to plant trees in Washington Square March 28, 2011. Formerly a parking lot, Washington Square has undergone major changes, including adding grass and seating areas. Seventeen trees will be planted within the square. (U.S. Air Force photo/Karen Abeyasekere)

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Geoffrey Robinson, a contractor, brings down his fork to break up soil while digging holes to plant trees in Washington Square March 28, 2011. Formerly a parking lot, Washington Square has undergone major changes, including adding grass and seating areas. Seventeen trees will be planted within the square. (U.S. Air Force photo/Karen Abeyasekere)

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Des Cook, a contractor, digs a hole ready to plant a tree in Washington Square March 28, 2011. Seventeen trees will be planted, along with shrubs and a seating area within the "walking campus" area. (U.S. Air Force photo/Karen Abeyasekere)

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Des Cook, a contractor, digs a hole ready to plant a tree in Washington Square March 28, 2011. Seventeen trees will be planted, along with shrubs and a seating area within the "walking campus" area. (U.S. Air Force photo/Karen Abeyasekere)

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Transformation on the site known as Washington Square is almost complete.

The project, which is turning a busy parking lot into a tranquil, landscaped seating area and "walking campus," is scheduled to be finished at the end of April, which is slightly ahead of schedule according to Steve King, Defence Estates Office senior project manager.

"It has been pedestrianized, with paving and soft landscaping [plants and shrubs, rather than mainly trees], as we're trying to encourage a walking campus feel - parking in other areas around base, and walking to where you need to go," Mr. King said.

His colleague, Chris Nicholson, 100th Civil Engineer Squadron project manager, added that the decision was made to remove the parking lot, because of anti-terrorism and force protection issues.

"There were health and safety issues with the [parking lot], but we also now have requirements to go towards a greener environment, beginning with the pedestrianization," Mr. Nicholson said. "The [parking lot] surface was also failing, and surface water drainage was a problem, as rainwater was ending up at the sewage treatment works.

"Rainwater now drains into an aquifer, which is an underground reservoir, solving the problem of drainage," he added.

A fire lane runs throughout the area, which allows the fire department to park in Washington Square in the event of an emergency.

When work first started on the project, beginning with stripping the asphalt, archaeologists from Suffolk County Council came in to inspect the area. They made significant finds in their initial inspection, so a full dig was carried out, which lasted for about two months.

Their search uncovered evidence of a Roman settlement, consisting of several areas of ditches, and pieces of pottery, including prehistoric, Roman, medieval or post-medieval pieces (the majority was Roman), and some late Iron Age and early Anglo Saxon.

Two Roman coins, animal bone, and human skeletons, thought to be Roman, were also discovered at the site.

Within the square will be several grass-covered mounds of earth, to break up the flat area, and there will also be seating and illuminated areas. Base members will be able to sit outside and eat their lunch and enjoy the traffic-free area.

The project cost totaled about $750,000.