By Steve Plunkett
An unnamed benefactor will pay a substantial part of the $450,000 cost to make Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s three-story observation tower ADA-compliant.
Michele Peel, president of the Friends of Gumbo Limbo, announced the gift at the May 6 meeting of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District.
“We have a wonderful private donor who has offered to contribute a significant amount of money toward this ADA solution to honor the memory of a beloved family member from our Boca community,” Peel said.
The gift will not only make the tower accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but also ensure the tower itself is built. The city, which owns the nature center and surrounding Red Reef Park, had recommended scrapping the tower entirely and building an educational pavilion instead.
“It looks like a perfect solution to the ADA issue that we struggled with for so long,” Beach and Park District Commissioner Robert Rollins said.
In early May the tower was only six 40-foot-tall wooden posts embedded in 3-foot concrete bases. The contractor was scheduled to leave around June 7.
“We know there is positive support in our community for keeping the tower in the hammock at Gumbo Limbo,” Peel said.
The model for Peel’s solution is a funicular, or incline, built at the Patuxent River Park in Maryland, between Washington, D.C., and Chesapeake Bay. Built by Hill Hiker Inc., the incline won 2019 Project of the Year accolades from industry trade publisher Elevator World.
“Aesthetically, it seems to blend in well with the location,” Peel said. “This one happens to feature a good-looking, custom-etched plexiglass cab.”
The cab can withstand four hours of 200-mph winds and accommodate a wheelchair and one or two individuals, Peel said the manufacturer told her. It does not require an operator; access can be limited by a key code, she said.
She said the Friends will launch a “Save the Tower” campaign to raise additional funds and provide a total of $500,000 for the incline. She estimated the equipment and installation would cost $400,000 to $450,000 with the rest going to the district for future maintenance. The district will pay for the incline to be built and will be repaid by the Friends.
The hugely popular observation tower and boardwalk were closed to the public in early 2015 after engineers warned they were near collapse. The replacement tower is being built with composite wood decking rather than natural timber, but otherwise will be a replica of the original.
Work on the first phase of the boardwalk started in May 2016 and was finished the following December. It cost almost $631,000. Custom Marine Construction Inc. won the remaining $1.1 million contract, which included demolishing and rebuilding the south loop of the boardwalk.
The south loop has been rerouted to not intrude into the mangroves on the east side of the Intracoastal Waterway. The original boardwalk never got environmental permits, officials have said.
While the city owns Red Reef Park, the Beach and Park District reimbursed it for buying the land and pays for all operations and capital improvements there.