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Lake Eola Park, Orlando FL: Reinventing a Downtown Destination




Lake Eola Park, in Orlando Fla. features a newly designed 1/3-acre playground that is divided up into two separate play areas, each aimed at a different age group. Taking six months to complete the site is nestled in the eastern corner of the 43-acre park, which is a popular destination for both tourists and local residents.
Photos courtesy of Lucido & Associates
Keystonewall.com

Lake Eola, in Orlando, Fla. is renowned for its signature fountains and spectacular views of the city skyline. The picturesque landscape has been a gathering place, offering residents a peaceful place to bring their families for over a century. During a 1988 revitalization of the park, Lake Eola's famous fountain and playground each underwent a major overhaul. However, while the fountain remained an important landmark in the two decades since, the playground grew to become badly in need of another redesign and renovation.






The colorful play structures shown here are aimed at toddlers, with swings, curved slides, nets and hiding places. A uniform pavement pattern runs throughout the entire site and features rubber safety surfaces.


Park History

Lake Eola is one of the many sinkhole lakes in central Florida, and the surrounding park is a popular destination. Founded in 1888 when the first of many parcels of land were donated to the city, the park wasn't officially established until 1892. At various times throughout its history, a zoo, horse track, tennis courts, and a pier with a dance area have been located on the premises. Its first signature fountain was built in 1912, and a second replacement was installed in 1957. Today the park encompasses 43 acres, 23 of which are water, open daily from 6 a.m. until midnight. A .9 mile jogging path surrounds the lake and is popular with runners and walkers alike. Besides taking their kids to the playground, visitors can rent swan-shaped paddleboats and electric gondolas, feed the birds, and see a concert or a play in the Walt Disney Amphitheater.



There is a strong sense of ownership of the playground by the community of regular users. While the neighbors were satisfied with the old playground, the city was obligated to replace it with equipment that met current safety and accessibility guidelines.--By Beth Bartlett, Lucido & Associates








One of the major drawbacks of the old design was that while the surrounding park was well lit, the small one-third-acre playground tucked into the eastern border of the park was quite dark. To remedy this dark past, brighter double acorn light fixtures by Holophane were installed.


A Need For Transformation

With so many reasons to visit the park, the Lake Eola playground has always been a popular attraction for children. The pleasant climate of Orlando coupled with year-round events held at the park meant that the equipment was constantly in use. After more than fourteen years of heavy traffic took its toll on the aging equipment, repairs became increasingly frequent and difficult. In addition, while the surrounding area was very well lit, the small one-third-acre playground was quite dark. All of these factors prompted community leaders to finally decide it was time for a change. Therefore, this year they moved forward with a plan to replace the equipment, while at the same time reinventing the look and feel of the play area.






A walking path lined with red and blue steel benches surrounds the playground at Lake Eola. At its center is a round concrete "plaza" and raised platform, where tables and chairs provide comfortable seating and vantage points for parents who are keeping an eye on their children.


The Players

The playground design was completed by City of Orlando Parks Division Landscape Architect, Beth Gruber. To assist in developing detailed document and construction observation for the development, the landscape architecture firm, Lucido & Associates was brought on board. Additionally, Nancy Caskey managed the project for the city and R.L. Burns performed the general contractor duties during construction. All of these different viewpoints came together to meld their ideas into a singular vision for the new playground that successfully came to fruition in a relatively short amount of time.






Large oak trees were able to be preserved during construction and now provide shade to children as they play in the park. A climbing wall is shown here inside the play area designed for 6-12 year old children. Custom fencing fabricated to match the park's original perimeter fence (seen in the foreground), encloses the grounds.


Design

The sleek new design called for state-of-the-art play equipment, rubber surfacing, improved lighting, ergonomic site furnishings, and detailed landscaping. The play areas were to be divided into two sections; one for toddlers, and one for older children and pre-teens. These two areas were separated by a round concrete "plaza" and raised platform with tables and chairs to provide comfortable seating and vantage points for parents to keep an eye on their brood.






To provide a child-friendly base for the equipment, a poured-in-place rubber surface was installed. Fibar mulch and concrete were then put in areas outside of the safety zones.


Construction Challenges

Tucked into the eastern border of the park, work began this past winter on the new playground. Protecting the existing large oak trees during demolition and construction was a primary concern for the parks division. In order to do this, extra care was taken by workers as they shuttled equipment in and out of the area. Because of its obscure setting, workers had limited access to the one-third-acre location, and all work had to be done within an existing perimeter fence that was saved from the original playground. Needless to say, this created a major challenge for transporting and using the tools necessary to complete the job. To make matters worse, during demolition many underground utilities were discovered that necessitated design changes. If all of these factors were not difficult enough, a last minute project addition of a shade structure required dewatering of the site in order to pour the large footers. With all of these setbacks, construction still only took around 6 months to complete and the park reopened in the spring of 2007 without causing damage to the surrounding environment.






The Lake Eola playground reopened in the spring of 2007. The play equipment shown here was chosen for the unique challenges it offered to older children. Unlike run-of-the-mill jungle gyms from years past, this equipment stresses climbing, while building upper-body strength.


Theme

The playground sits underneath a canopy of mature oaks and camphor trees. To assure a green and shady setting for the future, new shrubs, trees and landscaping were planted. Additionally, residential buildings and redevelopment were recently completed in the surrounding downtown area. This renewed interest in the downtown corridor gives the playground an added importance. Not only does it provide an added attraction for park visitors, but it also complements the urban development and offers an exciting kid's zone for the growing community.






Lake Eola, (which can be seen in the background) has been a popular site for Orlando residents to congregate since 1888. The shade structure pictured gives the newly designed playground a unique aesthetic while providing UV protection and reducing the temperature underneath by as much as 15-30 percent.


Play Equipment

Kompan equipment was chosen specifically for the playground because it offers numerous ways for children to interact. Designed with the latest research in child development to appeal to children of different abilities, the equipment supplies dynamic motion elements and challenges for all age groups. The curved lines of the structures and the raised seating platform are echoed in the pavement design and in the pattern of the rubber safety surface. Kompan's Elements line is geared toward children ages 2-6, while the Galaxy line is meant for ages ranging from 6-12. These structures include swings, the very popular Supernova, Spicas as well as the Spinner Bowl. In addition, to provide a child-friendly base for the equipment, a poured-in-place rubber surface was installed. Fibar mulch and concrete were then put in areas outside of the safety zones.



Because of its obscure setting, workers had limited access to the one-third-acre location, and all work had to be done within an existing perimeter fence that was saved from the original playground. Needless to say, this created a major challenge for transporting and using the tools necessary to complete the job.








This untraditional custom sail-type shade structure was added to the project very late in the game. Located over the park's raised center plaza, it is a gathering spot for picnickers. To provide additional shade, oak trees and native plant life were placed throughout the grounds as well.


Site Amenities

To truly give the site a fresh look and complement the play areas, a number of site amenities were installed. The focal point of the design is a custom sail-type sculptural shade structure by Sky Shades. Installed at the park's center "plaza" to provide cover from the sweltering Florida sun, it gives the playground a unique feel. A custom railing to match the existing exterior fence surrounds this raised platform, with blue and red Steelsites picnic tables and chairs by Victor Stanley, can be found under the canopy. Steelsites benches also line the parks fences, offering additional seating for exhausted parents. Lastly, to remedy the park's dark past and add safety and security, brighter double acorn light fixtures by Holophane were installed throughout the site.






With more than fourteen years of heavy traffic taking its toll and repairs becoming increasingly frequent and difficult on the aging apparatus, community leaders decided to replace the equipment. Redesigning the play area along with adding ergonomic seating helped reinvent the look and feel of the park.


Reinvention

While the neighbors were satisfied with the old playground, the city was obligated to replace it with equipment that met current safety and accessibility guidelines. Rebuilding the park was also an opportunity to revitalize the area with a plan that was visually and functionally stimulating. After only a few months since it reopened, there is a strong sense of ownership of the playground by not only those who designed and constructed it, but also by the ever-growing community surrounding it. It has been getting rave reviews from park visitors, who remark about its vibrant colors and unique style. With any luck in 20 years Lake Eola's historic fountain will be getting a facelift while the park will still be intact, used by hundreds of children each day.






Events held each year at Lake Eola Park:

  • Spin City Classic: Held in March, this sanctioned professional and amateur bicycle racing event is held on the streets around the park.
  • Fiesta in the Park: Held the first full weekend in November, this event includes an arts & crafts show, entertainment and food.
  • Fire Works Over the Fountain: Annual 4th of July celebration
  • MoviEola: Held on Fridays in May, the park offers free family oriented movies shown at the amphitheater in addition to entertainment provided by various local youth organizations.






50 Years for the Lake Eola Fountain






The Lake Eola Fountain (also known as the Centennial Fountain) is one of the most recognizable landmarks in downtown Orlando. Sitting on the 23 acre lake, the original fountain was installed in 1912 at a cost of $10,000 dollars. The current fountain was installed in 1957 at a cost of $350,000 dollars and was restored in 1988.

This year Orlando celebrated the fountain's 50th anniversary on Independence Day to coincide with their annual fireworks display. Drawing more than 125,000 people, the event featured special pyrotechnics set up near the fountain and birthday cards available for citizens to sign.






Firm Profile

Founded in 1988, Lucido & Associates is comprised of three Florida offices, Lucido & Associates in Stuart, Thomas Lucido & Associates in Fort Pierce and Lucido & Sole Design in Orlando. The firm offers professional land planning and landscape architectural services to both the public and private sectors and works with government officials and private citizens alike. Their detailed knowledge of new technology and the latest development trends along with local, state, and federal regulations, assures cutting edge design and compliance with the latest regulatory policies.


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December 14, 2019, 8:50 am PDT

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