Gainesville's newest playground accessible for all users
Published on April 20, 2023
A sunny spring morning was the perfect setting as City of Gainesville leaders and members of the community gathered today to celebrate the official opening of the new playground at Albert “Ray” Massey Park.
The municipal playground is the area’s first “boundless” or inclusive playground that enables access for children of all ages and abilities. The brightly colored, $2 million facility is funded through the Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) surtax, approved by Alachua County voters last November.
“This is an incredible space and we’re truly grateful to the taxpayers for supporting WSPP and for trusting us to invest their tax dollars wisely on transformational projects like this,” said Mayor Harvey Ward before the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I’m so proud of the efforts of everyone involved that helped create a space where all children can play together,” he said.
The new playground sports a space-theme motif, inspired by the adjacent NW Eighth Avenue Solar Walk public art installation. Its largest piece of equipment, “the Space Station,” is intentionally designed with ramps and flat surfaces. Children who use mobility supports, such as crutches or wheelchairs, can easily maneuver throughout the sprawling structure.
“Everything – including the new swings, slides and spinners – is also designed for care providers at any level of mobility to be able to help children on and off the equipment,” said Betsy Waite, director of Wild Space & Public Places.
In addition, a colorful walkway at the south end of the playground features activity boards to help children develop fine-motor skills.
“My son calls it ‘the pirate wheel,’” said Patrick Maher as his son took a break from the play area.
Construction of the new playground began in August 2022 and was completed in March 2023. During the early planning stages, city staff met with experts from the University of Florida Health Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) and from Alachua County Public Schools to ensure a variety of physical, social and sensory elements were incorporated into the design. One such component is a communication board to help support the communication needs of any child at the playground.
“It has both words for action and words to build sentences, and is similar to boards we use to support communication in the schools,” said Elisa Wern, a lead occupational therapist at Alachua County Public Schools. “Having access to it as they play will help them build the skills we want them to use both in school and in life,” she said.
The Massey Park playground also is the city’s first fully lighted playground. The outdoor lighting will enable visitors to use the play area after sunset in seasons with fewer daylight hours.
“I am so impressed,” said District IV Commissioner Bryan Eastman. “There is so much thought and attention to detail here that this is becomes so much larger than the playground. It becomes a community space and that’s what we do when we design good public spaces like this,” he said.
The city’s commitment to an equitable community for all is a keystone of its strategic plan.