Facelifts in Boca: Entire slate of district parks to get upgrades

Isla Phillips, 4, of Boca Raton, plays in the fossil sandbox at the Science Playground in Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton. The Science Playground will be getting an upgrade that makes it accessible to all; including those who use a wheelchair. Carline Jean, Sun Sentinel

The field of play throughout the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District is going to be getting a lot greener. And it's not just new grass.

It's also the millions about to be invested in Boca-style fun.

Nearly two years since the district debuted its last capital project — the $13.9 million Spanish River Athletic Fields — a slew of upgrades there and throughout the district are about to commence. It's expected the first hammer will fall in the next 60 days. And before it's all over — up to five years from now — all of the district's activity centers will have had an upgrade of some sort.


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It's going to range from giving the humans at the city dog park, Mizner Bark, a place to go (as in restrooms) to building new fields at the Spanish River Athletic Fields.

"We weren't really saving up, we were trying to figure out where we wanted to put our money and use it responsibly in a way that would benefit the most people," said Susan Vogelgesang, the chairwoman of the district's board of commissioners.

The Beach & Park District levies taxes on Boca residents and residents who live in a sliver of unincorporated Palm Beach County along Boca's western border. None of these projects will require the district to borrow money, said Art Koski, the district's executive director.

Recreation is pursued with widespread zeal in Boca. The district's Gumbo Limbo Nature Center had a record year last year, drawing 140,000 visitors. Koski estimated that 3,500 participants in youth soccer use the district's various fields. Another 1,000 youth play football and lacrosse on the district's fields. And that doesn't count the number of people of all ages who show up for pick-up games or informally meet for play.

"The fields are in constant, constant demand," Koski said.

Whether it's engaging engineering firms to study what might be done or setting up bids for a contractor, every one of the Beach & Park District's locations is in some phase of getting an upgrade:

The Sugar Sand Science Playground, at 300 S. Military Trail, is first up. The playground that shows the relative distance of the planets from each other was built in 1995 by an army of resident volunteers. Now the district has budgeted up to $1.25 million for a project that will refurbish the science playground and make it so that children of all abilities will be able to enjoy it.

It means changing things, such as the mulch that now covers much of the ground to something that wheelchairs can roll over easily. Pathways will also be widened so two wheelchairs at once can move along.

The Spanish River Athletic Facilities at de Hoernle Park should have new playing fields and a new building by the end of the year in a $6.25 million project. It is about to undergo a review for compliance with city development standards. It will also put in restrooms for humans at adjacent Mizner Bark.

The park, at 1000 NW Spanish River Blvd., covers about 228 acres in two parcels and already has eight playing fields that have been in high demand.

For the Swim & Racquet Center, which had nearly 30,000 visits last year, plans are to knock down a building that was once a Chuck's Steakhouse and put in a two-story building. Classrooms, office space and a new check-in area are also part of the plan.

The district is also envisioning a new interactive fountain for children and a tennis pavilion. Improvements in the existing parking, swimming pool and locker rooms are also planned.

A cost has not been assigned to the project at 21618 St Andrews Blvd., however. But two firms have been engaged to draw up plans.

Before it's over, the architect on the project, Douglas Mummaw, predicted that many more will be taking advantage of the enhanced amenities.

"The tennis center there is already one of the most beautiful tennis centers in South Florida," he said.

The Red Reef Park hasn't had an upgrade in 30 years. A planning and engineering firm was chosen last month to look into how the park and adjacent Gumbo Nature Limbo Center should be freshened up.

The properties are on North Ocean Boulevard, generally located four blocks north of the city's main thoroughfare, East Palmetto Park Road. But the project will involve properties on both sides of the State Road A1A — the beach, the golf course and the nature center.

The public will be invited in for charrettes on some proposals for what to do about cramped parking at Gumbo Limbo and ways to attract more activity at the golf course, which, like many golfing facilities, has seen its use fall off.

Patch Reef Park, at 2000 Yamato Road, needs a resurfacing of the parking area, improvements to locker rooms and help with drainage problems.

A request for proposals that went out in February brought in the engineering firm Motre' to work on the project, Koski said.

Ageggis@tribune.com, 561-234-6624 or Twitter @AnneBoca.