With a new budget reflecting the return of a previously removed shade structure, the Sarasota City Commission on Monday approved replacing the splash pad and playground at Bayfront Park.
The centerpiece of the $3.22 million playground renovation is the splash pad, which will be new from below the ground up. The popular but antiquated 27-year-old water feature could no longer be properly maintained, largely because of aging and inaccessible plumbing. It has been closed for several months.
A point of concern among commissioners at their July 5 meeting was the lack of shade structure, which was one of several features removed to reduce the project cost to $2.9 million. At that meeting, City Manager Marlon Brown said he would scour the budget to find the additional $300,000 to include the shade structure in the project.
That shade structure its strategically located between the splash pad and the playground, Parks and Recreation Department Director Jerry Fogle told commissioners.
“You could be sitting in the covered area and be watching out for your children on the splash pad and on the playground at the same time as opposed to the two different levels that we have today where there they seem like they're two separate parks,” said Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch. “It just makes that a safer situation.”
Currently sitting at sea level, the new splash pad will be elevated by several feet, but won’t appear so because the entire grade will be gradually raised between the bayfront and the water feature.
Raising the splash pad, explained Phil Smith of project contractor Jon F. Swift Inc., will provide easier access to the plumbing when repairs and maintenance are required.
“Some of the sidewalks are being adjusted and the grade is being brought up to blend in, so that whole area is being raised up not just the splash pad proper,” Smith said. “The splash pad will be way easier to maintain with less moving parts than we currently have.”
Fogle said the playground will be closed soon so construction can begin. The playground structures will also be made of more durable materials.
“That's all artificial turf, and the playground equipment is all reinforced fiberglass concrete,” Fogle said. “It's meant to be something that's much more durable, so it's not your typical aluminum plate structures.”
Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.