The Coastal Star

Frank Gonzales, top, and Fernando Aciento, bottom, paint the original wooden-brick head

inside the rebuilt playground of Boca Raton’s Sugar Sand Park.

The playground is expected to be completed this month.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Visitors to see ‘wow factor’ at reopening

By Steve Plunkett
    
    Something new is coming to Boca Raton this month — a four-level playground accessible to children of all physical abilities via ramps from bottom to top.
    Construction of the refurbished Science Playground at Sugar Sand Park is scheduled to wrap up March 18.
    “From what we’ve learned and what we’ve seen, this will be one-of-a-kind in the United States,” said Arthur Koski, executive director of the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, which operates Sugar Sand. “Once it’s opened, it’s going to [have] a wow factor. It’s going to be great.”
    Citizen volunteers built the playground, at 300 S. Military Trail, with wood in 1995. “They came down with hammers and nails,” Koski said.
    Safety concerns closed the aging structure in June 2015. By then, district commissioners had decided to make the playground more accessible, partly on the prodding of Sandra Gottfried of the city’s People With Disabilities Advisory Board. The entire facility now meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  
    “All areas are going to be accessible by wheelchairs — I think that’s the major difference,” District Chairman Robert Rollins said. “That’s what makes the playground extra special.”
    Koski said, “It’s the finest thing the district has done.”
    The old version’s wooden decks were supported by telephone-type poles. They’ve been replaced with composite material.
    “But not circular like a pole — it’s square,” Koski said.
    The different shape meant finding a different way to attach the floors to the posts and extra scrutiny of the finished work.
    “We’ve got workers crawling all over it,” making sure, for instance, that the heads of bolts are recessed enough that a child’s fingers won’t snag,” he said. “We want to make sure that every single element is safe. Every one of the patrons deserves that.”
    Gone is the mulch that covered the ground around the structure, replaced by a rubberized mat more suited to wheelchairs and baby strollers.
    “We modified all the designs to accommodate children with any sort of disability so that the entire facility is accessible to everyone,” Koski said.
    And not just children. If old age or infirmities someday put Koski in a wheelchair, “I’ll be able to take my grandson up to the fourth floor,” he said.
    The entire project, which includes new playground equipment and improved access for buses and pedestrians, cost $2.4 million.
    Like the original playground, the refurbished version offers hands-on experiences that demonstrate scientific principles such as a space station, a giant head and DNA-coded walkways.
    “Everybody that came to the playground before was impressed by the structure. It was a community effort,” Rollins said.
    But the layout was modified to improve lines of sight for watchful parents.
    “Once your children [went] into the playground, the old one, you could lose track of them,” Rollins said.
    In late February, beach and park officials were still planning events to celebrate the playground’s opening. They hoped to have a homecoming of sorts for the volunteers who built the original structure.
    Gottfried attended a district meeting in November to urge commissioners to educate the public on what to expect at Sugar Sand and to set up “play at the park dates” to encourage parents to bring children with disabilities.
    “As I have told you before, we will be transforming a whole generation through play,” Gottfried said. “When these kids reach adulthood, they will be better people because of their experiences in the playground.”

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