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Colonialtown: Reborn and Revitalized
LASN December 2015 Playground

By Michael Miyamoto, LASN Editor

When Colonialtown Park in Orlando, Fla., was in need of a facelift, the city of Orlando and its parks division stepped in with a solution. Money from the city's capital improvement program funded the project, and the site was expanded, redesigned, modernized and basically brought back to life. The revamped version of Colonialtown was completed in 2009. The city of Orlando is the owner of the property, and its parks division essentially took charge of the project. The lead landscape architect was Beth Gruber, senior landscape architect and parks planner for the city of Orlando.
Photos: Beth Gruber, senior landscape architect and park planner, city of Orlando, Fla.

After 20 years of use, a park near a community center in the middle of a busy residential district in Orlando, Fla., had fallen into a state of disrepair and was badly in need of an overhaul.

At the same time, there was still a great need for a place of relaxation and recreation in that particular part of Orlando. So the city's parks division staffers decided to do something to revitalize the site, and Orlando's capital improvement program provided them with the financial wherewithal to accomplish their mission.

The new and improved Colonialtown Park -- unveiled in April 2009 -- is the result.


The playground sits next door to the Colonialtown Neighborhood Center, while Ferncreek Elementary School is just across the street. Colonialtown is heavily used and is a popular destination for residents of the neighborhood. The park is surrounded by single-family homes and small businesses operating in renovated houses.

One of the priorities of the capital improvement program is to replace playgrounds when they can no longer be safely repaired. With the capital improvement money, the city was able to upgrade the park with the most recent, state of the art playground equipment and amenities.

Colonialtown was designated for a facelift in 2009. But well before that, "far-sighted planning" played a key role in what the new park would eventually look like, said Beth Gruber, senior landscape architect and parks planner for the Orlando Parks Division. Because of that planning, the city was able to make improvements to the park that would enhance its functionality.


The upgraded park has two play areas for children ages 2-5 and 5-12. Victor Stanley Inc. manufactured the benches and trash receptacles. The playground equipment provides a mix of motion and sensory elements with swings, spinners and climbers that can help improve children's physical, cognitive and social development, said landscape architect Beth Gruber. Most Dependable Fountains Inc. made and installed the drinking fountains. Dumor Site Furnishings Inc. manufactured the picnic tables.

When a corner parcel of land adjacent to Colonialtown became available, the city of Orlando wasted no time in buying it. And when the playground was ready to be upgraded, that parcel was added to the site, expanding its size.

The playground sits next to the Colonialtown Neighborhood Center and across the street from Ferncreek Elementary School. Single-family homes and small businesses tucked inside renovated houses surround the park as well.

As many as 75 children in grades K-5 fill the playground every day after school and during school breaks. The majority of these kids attend Ferncreek Elementary, where 84 percent of the students are on a free or reduced lunch program and 20 percent are homeless. The park is also heavily used in the mornings and early evenings.

A neighborhood association was instrumental in the design, and its members met with city staff many times to provide input and advice on Colonialtown's new look.


GameTime installed the shade sail for the picnic area, and also made and installed all of the playground equipment. Its Xscape products were selected so children could have fun and develop their upper body strength at the same time. Ameristar Fence Products installed the security fence. The playground surface is made of engineered wood fiber. Cathcart Contracting Company was the general contractor for the playground renovation.

Previously, Colonialtown Neighborhood Center visitors had to walk through a back door and a parking lot to reach the playground. But after the corner property was purchased and the park was enlarged, walkways were extended and a safer route to and from Colonialtown Park was created.

The upgraded park has two play areas for children ages 2-5 and 5-12, separated by a picnic facility covered with a shade sail. New benches were added. A blue and green color scheme was used to match neighborhood signs. Pedestrian lights were installed along nearby streets for added security.

GameTime made and installed the playground equipment, and its Xscape brand of products were selected to help schoolchildren better develop their upper body strength, while having fun at the same time. "The system features a wide variety of overhead events linked together to create an outdoor gymnasium where children develop strength, agility and confidence," Gruber said. "There are an infinite number of paths to take as you move through the system, so it's always exciting and new. The equipment is sleek, curvilinear and thoroughly modern."

The playground equipment and tot structure complement one another well. Both were picked so children of all abilities could play together. Colonialtown is an all-inclusive facility.

The new playground equipment has many motion and sensory elements, including swings, spinners and climbers that help children improve their physical, cognitive and social development, Gruber said. The engineered wood fiber surface was chosen for its durability and safety.

"Since neighborhood centers in Orlando have some of the most heavily used playgrounds, it was important that the equipment accommodate large, active groups and be fabricated from the most durable materials," Gruber said.

Colonialtown also features a "rolling hill" that is great for children's bodies and brains for many reasons, including sensory and gross motor development. "We took advantage of an existing elevation difference between the playground site and the adjacent pool level to provide a slope so that the kids could use it to roll," Gruber said.

With the support and assistance of Harry P. Leu Gardens and parks district staff, neighbors assembled 20 garden plots that are still maintained at Colonialtown to this day.

Large oak trees line both sides of the sidewalk that follows the curve of the playground and directs visitors to the entrance of the park. Saving as much of the existing tree canopy was very important in the planning and design process.

Minimizing maintenance was also a project goal. A row of Chinese fan palms provides a wall of shade along the south border and helps keep leaves from dropping into a nearby pool. Flax lily and dwarf podocarpus plants were selected for their drought tolerance and beauty.

As a result of the city of Orlando's efforts, the people who live near Colonialtown appreciate the new look and feel of their neighborhood park, Gruber said.

"Our city strives to meet the needs of all residents who choose to call Orlando home," Mayor Buddy Dyer said. "Offering a combination of economic, cultural and educational opportunities, Orlando is a city for everyone. And being a city for everyone means adding and enhancing amenities to our neighborhoods and community centers. This playground has been enjoyed by families for years and I am proud that it will continue to benefit the neighborhood for many more years."

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