Shade structures added back into design of new playground and splash pad for Bayfront Park

Sarasota City Commission approves updated expense of $3.2 million

About two-and-a-half months ago, the Sarasota city commissioners asked city staff to try to find the extra money needed to add shade structures back into the plans for a revamped playground and splash pad in Bayfront Park, in downtown Sarasota.

With that having been done, the commissioners voted unanimously on Sept. 19 to approve a revised expense of $3,217,603 for the project. The original estimated maximum price was $3,998,911. City staff had worked to pare that figure down before the original commission discussion; that effort had resulted in the elimination of some of the shade structures.

During the Sept. 19 presentation about the improvements, which Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch had requested that morning, Commissioner Hagen Brody did criticize aspects of the design before voting for the revised plans. He was absent from the July 5 meeting, when his colleagues last discussed the issues.

Jerry Fogle, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, pointed out on Sept. 19, “The main change” was exactly what commissioners had requested during their July 5 session. “The playground is virtually covered,” he said of the new plan to include all of the proposed shade structures that were in the initial design.

Sarasota landscape architect Phil Smith, a member of the project team, also pointed out that a shade structure would cover what he referred to as the “supervision area” for parents and guardians of the youngsters who would use the two facilities. “The entire area of the playground now has shade,” Smith said of the revised design.

“So you could be sitting in … the covered area and watching out for children on the splash pad and on the playground at the same time?” Ahearn-Koch asked.

That is correct, Smith replied.

Smith also explained that the equipment in the playground will be made of reinforced fiberglass and concrete, which would be “much more durable.” The new equipment was designed for use in a coastal environment, where it would be subject to saltwater exposure, he added.

Further, Fogle and Smith noted the plans for the fencing and one entry to both the playground and splash pad, to provide better security.

Then Brody pointed out, “I’m familiar with this playground. … It’s pretty cool as it is.” Referring to the renderings that Smith had shown the board members, Brody added, “That playground is not cool. It just isn’t.”

Expectations for a highly popular facility

Fogle reminded Brody of the community outreach that the Parks and Recreation staff had undertaken in preparation for designing the improvements.

The formal city staff request for the Sept. 19 agenda item noted, “Public meetings were held to engage and solicit feedback from residents as well as the [city’s] Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Advisory Board to determine the features they most desired in the Bayfront Park renovation project.”

Fogle also emphasized to Brody that the new facilities would be compliant with the federal American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and that the design was crafted to ensure that the improvements would be attractive to most children. “It’s inclusive,” Fogle said.

Moreover, Fogle stressed, “This playground is going to be nothing like what we have in our neighborhoods. … In my humble opinion, it’s going to be the most popular playground and splash pad anywhere that we have in the city.”

“I think the splash pad’s awesome,” Brody replied.

When Brody asked how much of the $3.2 million would be allocated to that part of the project, Fogle told him “a tremendous amount,” though he did not have the exact figure. Removing the old plumbing and creating the new splash pad carries “a huge, huge cost,” Fogle pointed out.

“In my experience,” Brody said, “these water features are expensive, and they’re really tough to maintain and keep working.”
Brody referenced the Mermaid Fountain in Paul Thorpe Jr. Park in downtown Sarasota as an example, indicating that he believed it is not working.

“It’s in great condition,” Fogle replied.

Still, Brody reiterated his concern about the expense of such features. “I wanted to put that on the record.”

The Children’s Fountain at Bayfront Park, Brody continued, “is extremely popular, and when it’s working, there’s so many kids that use it, so many families that go out there.”

Then Brody said he did not believe the new shade structures will last. “Those things get pretty raggedy pretty quickly.”

However, Fogle told him that the city has similar shade structures on the water in other parks that have proven durable. “I would think that this would be the same,” Fogle added.

Brody again said of the playground design, “It doesn’t look that cool.”

When he asked Fogle whether the current playground structures are salvageable, Fogle responded that the Parks and Recreation team has recommended that that facility be closed down, so staff was preparing to meet with City Manager Marlon Brown to take that step. “We’ve been trying to patch it up and keep it up and duct-tape it and keep it safe, of course. But it’s on its last leg, commissioner. It absolutely needs to be removed.”

At that point, Brody conceded, “I’m not a playground expert.”

He then talked about how much he likes the circus-themed playground in Payne Park.

“I really believe it’s going to be a very, very popular playground,” Fogle said of the new facility planned for Bayfront Park. “It’s not like what we had growing up,” he continued, “ but children today are different.

“So you might want an area for cell phones and whatnot,” Vice Mayor Kyle Battie told Fogle with a laugh.

In response to a question from Battie, Fogle said the new playground would be in “about the same footprint” as the existing one. The design will bring the splash pad and the playground to the same level, he noted.

Fogle also pointed out, “The whole splash pad will be way easier to maintain,” as it will have fewer parts than the Children’s Fountain.

Finally, Commissioner Ahearn-Koch made the motion to approve the Guaranteed Maximum Price for the project, which Jon F. Swift Construction of Sarasota will build, and Brody ended up seconding the motion. It passed 5-0.