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Fairy Dust

For a number of years, the citizens and planners of the City of Niceville, Florida had envisioned the development of a public park specifically designed for children of all ages and capabilities. When the city acquired a site adjacent to the City Hall and Police Station along with a one-acre open space between a roller skating rink and North Partin Drive, the chance to convert the rink into a Community Center and to develop the acre of land as a Children's Park gave merit to the community's impassioned quest for a safe haven for their children, and materialized like a fairy tale come true.

Under the direction of Senior Architect/Planner Robert W. Bentley, AIA/AICP and Landscape Architect David Hemphill, RLA, ASLA, the Pensacola-based firm of Baskerville-Donovan, Inc. (BDI) developed a detailed master plan for the quality park setting that would be enjoyed by the parents as well as the children. After extensive consultation with City Manager Lanny Corbin, staff and other city officials, BDI developed a series of recommendations that would satisfy the city's basic goals. Key elements of this program focused on accommodating access and mobility to and circulation around the site for people of all ages and physical conditions; providing safe facilities within the park that are as hazard-free as possible for all participants; and, above all, creating the feeling of enchantment found in a child-, parent- and guest-friendly park.

Implementation of the Niceville Children's Park master plan began in late 1995 with the construction of a perimeter security fence. A white, stucco wall, trimmed in green, encloses the entire park complex to offer shelter from adjacent street and parking area traffic. The attractive enclosure ensures that children will not run out into the street, and that unwanted "ruffians" may not penetrate the park after dark. Hemphill credits Bentley, his Project Manager, with the "genius" of the several small birdhouses, feeders and matching accent lights that adorn the top of the landscaped security fence, adding a touch of whimsy to this delightful park.

A spray pool where the children love to frolic serves as a magical diversion, particularly during the hot summer months. Information boards greet visitors at the park gates, and bicycle racks near the entrances secure the children's means of transportation. Comfortable benches and twenty-eight pieces of brightly colored play equipment-- with various characteristics to satisfy the different age groups that play in the park-- abound throughout the grounds. Entirely designed for disabled access and participation, the park features only play equipment that is accessible to disabled youths and/or their parents. Proper clearances and fall zones have been maintained around and between play equipment to prevent collisions, and a colorful, cushion-type surfacing made from a compacted rubber from recycled tires surrounds all playground equipment to protect the children from injuries resulting from falls.

A kaleidoscope of annuals and perennials complement the native plant materials that carpet the grounds. An extensive in-house sod production capability and well-stocked nursery allowed the city to grow and install nearly all of the landscape itself, under the recommendations of BDI. Stately live oaks (quercus), Sweet Gum (hamamelidacae), and India Hawthorn (rhapiolepis) all grace the lawns of the children's park. Day lilies (liliaceae) and crepe myrtles complement the hybrid bermuda grass and the hardscape elements.

The Master Plan also provides for an open-air semicircular amphitheater with plush, sloping grass seating areas that focus on a raised platform designed for performances and multiple activities by persons of every age and capability. Already under construction and scheduled to be completed in early 1997, this fifty-foot-wide covered area with enclosures on each side provides for storage, dressing rooms, electrical and sound equipment. The platform backdrop is the end wall of the Community Center that will be architecturally treated to conform with the quaint, fanciful architecture of the platform structures. Intercepted with a series of concrete isles and ramps for the disabled, pocket areas along within the grassed seating areas are designed for wheelchair spectators.

A landscaped open pavilion, complete with umbrella tables, seating and snack vending machines, is located at the central edge of the amphitheater. For complete family enjoyment, parents may either relax at the pavilion or inside two gazebos, supervising their children's playtime in comfort.

For added safety, access to the park is controlled by several gates that may be secured when the park is closed to the public. Security fences enclose the entire park complex, and cameras have been installed inside bubble fixtures attached to the light poles to send a video feed to the nearby Police Station for monitoring. Adult supervision is required within the park, which explains why such careful design provisions have been made to accommodate the adults as well as the children. Lighted for evening use, the park twinkles after nightfall, and "looks like Times Square," according to David Hemphill.

Niceville continues to extend the feeling of warmth and activity beyond the borders of its Children's Park. Situated right across the street from the children's haven, a public school campus with multiple athletic facilities provides baseball and football fields for active community members. In addition, the city -- blessed with talented planners has developed a small, passive recreation park between the Children's Park site and the City Hall, complete with gazebos, garden/porch-type swings, seats, plants, flowers and a putting green. Bentley credits the dedication of the local community who, hosted a commemorative brick fundraiser, and, "through a lot of activity and encouragement, convinced the public officials and staffmembers to go ahead with the project" as the park's means of success. And so, while a total community participation continues to yield more and more safe, recreational opportunities through brick-by-brick dedication (and maybe a little bit of fairy dust!), as many as five hundred children already visit and enjoy the Niceville Children's Park every day, a project, and a dream, of which the whole community can be proud.

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October 20, 2019, 8:10 pm PDT

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