As the buildings begin to take shape and street improvements begin, the extensive 18-month expansion of Virginia Avenue Park in Santa Monica moves forward on schedule.

The street enhancements on Cloverfield and Pico Boulevards are causing some backups in traffic during heavy travel times.

Doing their best to mitigate construction delays and related problems, city officials anticipate completion of the street construction by the end of August.

Drivers should be prepared for lane closures westbound on Pico Boulevard from Cloverfield Boulevard to 21st Street and on Cloverfield Boulevard, next to the park, from Pico Boulevard to Virginia Avenue.

Once complete, Virginia Avenue Park’s 9.5 acres will offer the community more educational and play space, making it the fourth-largest park in Santa Monica.

City officials say that the well-planned renovations of the buildings on the property will create symmetry with the open green spaces, producing a campus-like atmosphere.

The refurbished buildings will house the many community programs and services the park offers, including the Police Activities League fitness gym, a center for older youths and community meeting and activity spaces.

Adding to its previous amenities, the park will provide a new splash pad, playgrounds and a small open-air pavilion for meetings and parties.

City officials say residents will once again be able to enjoy the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables as they stroll through the newly designed tree-shaded farmers market at the corner of Cloverfield and Pico Boulevards.

With almost 90,000 residents in Santa Monica, the city has approximately 112 acres of park space, not including Virginia Avenue Park.

With a high density of apartments, most of these city dwellers have no backyard space and use their city parks regularly, in lieu of a yard.

There are also a lot of sports groups that use the fields and courts at the parks.

According to Karen E. Ginsberg, city assistant director of community and cultural services, the people of Santa Monica make good use of their parks and the services offered.

She notes that almost any time you walk in one of the parks you’ll see many people participating in activities or in the programs offered or simply enjoying their surroundings.

The city also sets high standards for maintenance of the parks, which increases everyone’s enjoyment of the open spaces, she says.

Enhancing the visual pleasure residents will receive from the grounds at Virginia Avenue Park will be a mural by the East Los Streetscapers. The richly detailed and vibrant mural will tell the tale of the community from the past and into the future, she adds.

The East Los Streetscapers, chosen through a jury selection, have painted murals all over Los Angeles and throughout California.

The murals are painted on canvas and later installed, a procedure that provides the artists the opportunity to work in their own studio. Creating the mural in this way also enables the city to remove the mural for repairs if needed.

The park will also have the healthy distinction of being Santa Monica’s second project to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Rating. The rating system provides extensive information and outlines strategies to help cities develop sustainable buildings.

The program encourages water saving, energy efficiency and aid in the selection of materials.

Working closely with the architects, engineers and landscape designers, the city structured a plan for the park that would meet LEED guidelines.

Construction practices are being monitored and a final evaluation will ensure that the completed buildings conform to design standards and function accordingly, city officials say.

Designing the park and the buildings by these guidelines confirms the city’s pledge to make it a priority that all city projects be designed with these standards in mind to achieve a Silver Rating, city officials say.

The City of Santa Monica has created a master plan and set forth a vision regarding its parks.

Santa Monica is known internationally as a leader in its efforts to create a sustainable community, and Virginia Avenue Park represents the city’s commitment to a healthier environment and is consistent with its long-term plan and vision regarding its parks.

Until its reopening, scheduled for next year, residents can continue to participate in the programs Virginia Avenue Park offers at various facilities throughout the city, and enjoy the many other parks Santa Monica has to offer.