Siesta Beach Park improvements to be showcased with Feb. 20 grand opening

County staff and construction manager win plaudits from Siesta Key Association members for $21.5 million project

A graphic shows the conceptual plan for the Siesta Beach Park improvements. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic shows the conceptual plan for the Siesta Beach Park improvements. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Dec. 7, 2011, faced with more than a decade-long process to upgrade the facilities at Siesta Public Beach, the Sarasota County Commission took what some observers called a bold step: It unanimously approved a $1.4 million contract for design and permitting services that would allow the construction to be completed 10 years earlier than originally planned.

“The quicker we get this project done, the better for the community,” then-Commissioner Joe Barbetta said prior to the vote. “It’s a No. 1 tourist attraction,” he added of the beach park.

Then-Commissioner Jon Thaxton agreed. “This is in essence building capital that’s going to repay us in spades time and time and time again.”

“To me, it’s like a gorgeous picture that deserves a gorgeous frame,” then-Commissioner Nora Patterson, a Siesta Key resident, added.

Barbetta made the motion to award the contract to Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. for the civil, landscape and architectural construction plans, final regulatory permitting, graphic design renderings and stakeholder outreach.

It proved to be almost two years later before the board approved the guaranteed maximum price (GMP) of $17,459,051 for demolition and building to begin, with Jon F. Swift Inc. of Sarasota serving as the construction manager at risk. The latter board decision was to ensure the work came in on budget. A memo to the commissioners in advance of their Oct. 22, 2013 vote called for the project to be completed in 24 months.

Brad Gaubatz. Rachel Hackney photo
Brad Gaubatz. Rachel Hackney photo

On Feb. 20 of this year, county staff will host the grand opening, Project Manager Brad Gaubatz, facilities manager in the Capital Projects division of the county’s Public Works Department, told about 30 members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) at their regular meeting on Jan. 7.

Although planning for the celebration is still under way, he said, the event will feature refreshments; demonstrations of volleyball, sandcastle building, yoga, kite flying and paddleboarding; and tours of the new facilities.

One suggestion has called for each public participant to receive a “passport” he or she can get stamped at six locations in the park, to win a beach towel. Gaubatz cautioned, however, that that element of the event had not been identified as a certainty as of his SKA presentation.

“Everybody, please help us,” he added: “Pray for good weather [on Feb. 20].”

The total cost of the project — including the design work — is $21.5 million, Gaubatz pointed out. As he showed the audience the original conceptual plan for the improvements, he noted, “That’s what we built.”

The County Commission approved the borrowing of funds to make it possible for the work to proceed at an accelerated pace, Gaubatz explained. “[There is] no additional millage for this project.”

Former Commissioner Patterson, who attended the Jan. 7 SKA meeting, added that Tourist Development Tax revenue also was allocated to the work. SKA member Bob Luckner, a member of the county’s Citizen Tax Oversight Committee, noted that funds brought in by the penny surtax voters approved in 2009 had been used for the project, too.

Work continues on the historic pavilion and the Public Safety Building, Gaubatz continued. Floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides of that structure allows a visual survey of the park that encompasses more than 180 degrees, he added. “It’s amazing, the view you can see,” Gaubatz said.

An aerial view taken in December shows the historic pavilion (left) and the new Public Safety Building during construction. Image courtesy Sarasota County
An aerial view taken in December shows the historic pavilion (left) and the new Public Safety Building during construction. Image courtesy Sarasota County

That new structure will serve as the island substation for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, he noted, with the county’s lifeguards and a new concession area and first-aid clinic in other portions of the building.

Gaubatz pointed out that the park’s playground area “is very heavily used, [and it is] a lot of fun, if you walk … on that spongy [surface] …”

Thanks to a Nov. 10 vote of the County Commission, he said, pre-cast concrete picnic shelters made in St. Augustine will replace the wooden shelters on the western end of the park.

Jon Swift employees have managed the project budget so well, Gaubatz continued, that funds also are available for the re-roofing of the historic pavilion as part of the renovations; the original timeline for that work was seven or eight years from now. The restrooms in that structure are being renovated, too, he told the audience, with a doubling of the number of fixtures. “My girls at my house — first thing they asked me about [was the restroom situation],” he said, prompting laughter.

The new playground area has a 'spongy' surface. Image courtesy Sarasota County
The new playground area has a ‘spongy’ surface. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Along with the esplanade, a seat will run almost the entire length of the park, he added, “except for a little break in front of the main building.”

“The seating wall is very attractive,” SKA board member Beverly Arias told Gaubatz, “and very comfortable to sit on, and, I imagine, very comfortable to lie down on as well.”
When she asked about security measures to make certain people do not sleep on the wall at night, after the parking lot closes at midnight, Gaubatz said the Sheriff’s Office will handle that.

Regarding a related concern: He pointed out that notches placed at regular intervals on the wall are designed “to deter skateboarding [on it].”

In response to a question from SKA member Bob Luckner, Gaubatz praised the Swift firm employees. “They’ve been fabulous,” Gaubatz said. “We received the No. 1 Beach [honor from TripAdvisor] in the nation in the middle of a two-year construction project. That is just completely unknown. … Of course, you’re going to have hiccups along the way, [but] they’ve kept the park open, operational.”

Former County Commissioner Nora Patterson. Rachel Hackney photo
Former County Commissioner Nora Patterson. Rachel Hackney photo

As for the parking: in response to another question, Gaubatz explained that because a pervious parking lot was constructed next to the stormwater system the county completed prior to the start of the beach improvements, more spaces could be incorporated into the park project. The total number of parking slots will rise from 837 to 980, county staff has told The Sarasota News Leader.

However, Gaubatz noted, the other parking areas will not be of a similar nature as the new one. “It’s much more expensive than asphalt,” he said of pervious construction.

Referring to the “juggling” staff and the construction workers had to do to bring the project in on budget while keeping the park open, Patterson told Gaubatz, “It’s just amazing you pulled it off. … Imagine how quickly you’d have done it as a normal construction project.”

“Imagine what would have happened to the tourist dollars,” SKA President Michael Shay responded.

“Imagine what would have happened to the commission,” Patterson said, prompting laughter.