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Plantation Oaks Community Park

By Dana Foltice, marketing manager, Clockwork Marketing Services, Inc., for Ervin Lovett & Miller

OakLeaf Plantation in Orange Park, Fla., a suburb west of the St. John's River just southwest of Jacksonville in northeastern corner of the state, is a 6,400-acre master-planned community developed by Hutson Companies. The development has two village centers, two athletic centers, a golf course, 2.5 million sq. ft. of commercial space and five school sites. Fountains at the entry and gardens were manufactured by St. Augustine Cast Stone.

When the Hutson Companies were planning a second recreational facility for their fast-growing residential community, OakLeaf Plantation, the firm Ervin Lovett & Miller was commissioned to create a social and recreational centerpiece for the 6,400-acre community.

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OakLeaf’s original community park, the OakLeaf Athletic Center, was designed by Ervin Lovett & Miller and contains a fitness center and community clubhouse, tennis courts, Junior Olympic pool, play pool with sprayground and waterplay, soccer fields and a playground, which successfully served the recreational needs of the community. As OakLeaf Plantation grew, the need for additional social, community recreation and civic space became apparent. Ervin Lovett & Miller is widely recognized for their successful community parks and aquatics-based recreation and was a natural choice to provide planning, architectural and landscape architectural design services for OakLeaf Plantation’s largest recreational facility, Plantation Oaks Community Park. The firm’s vision was to create a complementary community park facility that would provide residents and visitors the additional recreational space needed with a further emphasis on aquatics recreation and social and civic orientation.

Plantation Oaks Community Park is a social and recreational centerpiece for the community of OakLeaf Plantation. The community is next to a 20,000-acre Jennings State Forest. Aquatic amenities include a family water park with slide tower, spray-ground, playpool and junior Olympic-sized lap pool.

Project History

Located in Orange Park, Florida, one of the most desirable and fast growing areas of the Southeast, OakLeaf Plantation greeted its first residents in 2002. Anticipating early growth, the community’s major infrastructure was constructed prior to receiving residents, including the OakLeaf Athletic Center. The community grew quickly as predicted and is now home to more than 4,200 families. With the increase in population, the need for additional social and recreational space resulted in the creation of Plantation Oaks Community Park, which opened in July 2004.

Several clusters of mature live oaks in a grassland setting were the dominant natural characteristics of the site.

The two-story clubhouse and the two pavilions on either side of the formal lawn is the hub of Plantation Oaks Community Park. There’s a mix of nature, formal lawns, sporting venues (two baseball/softball fields, two full-size basketball courts and eight Har-Tru clay tennis courts), water elements (play pool, water tower/slide, sprayground) and some play equipment. Ervin Lovett & Miller oriented the design of the entry court, clubhouse, formal lawn, gardens and meadow to take advantage of the distant lake and wetland views.

Preservation of more than 20 century-old oaks, some ranging in diameter from 30 to more than 72 inches, was paramount to the design team recognizing that they defined the greatest natural value of the site. As landscape architect and Ervin Lovett & Miller partner Steve Lovett remembers, the canopy was both the biggest design challenge and one of the best design opportunities. “The oak trees told the story of the property, and we had to weave that story through the park’s design,” said Lovett. “They also provided natural association between park uses. For example, the pool and tennis areas are in close proximity but by placing elements of the design into such a dramatic natural setting, we were able to use these extraordinary trees to screen, buffer and reflect the site’s natural heritage.”

The Plantation Oaks garden has a landscape labyrinth. The labyrinth pathways are pavers, defined by a sequence of hedges and tightly spaced plantings, primarily Walter’s viburnum. The height of the shrubs, approximately four feet at maturity, will shield the children as they wander the path.

Design Elements

Historic brick, matching the clubhouse, was specified for the low surrounding walls and in hardscape details such as paving, columns and planters. An existing lake and trail system at the opposite end of the site became another important aspect of the design, connecting neighborhoods to the park through a pedestrian open space network.

A cast stone fountain (St. Augustine Cast Stone), expansive lawn (St. Augustine and Bermuda grass), rose garden and Ligustrum trees give a formal identity to the back of the clubhouse, which faces the lake.

The landscape architects oriented the entry court, clubhouse, formal lawn, gardens and meadow to take advantage of distant lake and wetland views. A lakefront pavilion at the far end of the property creates a visual terminus to the main axis of the lake.

The tennis pavilion is on the edge of the forested area and includes some of the more than 90 newly-planted live oaks. The park also includes Mary Nells holly, southern magnolia, Washingtonia palm, flowering dogwood, pine, crape-myrtle, ligustrum and date palms.

Water Play

The Junior Olympic competition pool at the OakLeaf Athletic Center led the team to pursue a different design direction. Ervin Lovett & Miller custom-designed the largest spray structure in northeast Florida. A 20 ft. tall water tower contains a large bucket that fills and overturns at regular intervals, splashing a tremendous volume of water on the sprayground. The depth of the water play area is shallow and offers a series of interactive spray and climbing features. The dual-flume waterslide and tower have both open and closed slides.

Walk-in entry connections between the play area and the main pool and from the main deck into the pool provide smooth connections between the pools and create family gathering areas. Date palms around the pool provide vertical punctuation to the design, create a natural shade canopy over the pool area and minimize maintenance, compared to broadleaf species.

The Plantation Oaks Clubhouse offers a zero-entry pool (right) with fountain elements. A zero-edge pool has an entry that gradually slopes from the deck into the water, becoming slightly deeper with each step. Medjool date palms, Ligustrum patio trees and live oaks are in the distance. The pool deck is 12x12 shell pavers (Tremron).

Tennis Garden

The park’s tennis club courts and facilities are in a garden environment. Eight Har-Tru courts, carefully placed among existing oaks, surround the clubhouse and a pro shop. In some areas of the tennis garden, paved paths between the courts were not viable, given the roots of the oak trees.

Ervin Lovett & Miller solved this problem by designing an elevated wooden boardwalk. One court was designed as a “feature court” integrating hardscape and landscape terrace features at the court’s edge and providing a location for informal seating.

The sprayground offers a custom designed watershed structure (spray platform, tunnel slides, tripping buckets) by Ervin Lovett & Miller, Jacksonville, Fla., engineered by Terry Wilmotte and Paul Foster of North American Aquatic Design, Jacksonville, with equipment by Compac. The spray pool and main pool are both zero-entry pools. The spray pool includes water tunnels (arching water spouts), a water gun and a party pavilion with trellises.
Photo of kids: Garry McElwee

Children’s Play

The landscape architects also designed a landscape labyrinth maze as part of the children’s play area. The labyrinth pathways are constructed of pavers, defined by a sequence of hedges and tightly spaced plantings, primarily Walter’s viburnum. The shrubs, approximately four feet at maturity, shield children as they wander in and out of the landscape maze, but allows for visibility by watching adults. “We are mindful that play does not always have to happen on a hard surface within a traditional structured play environment,” said Lovett.

For the more serious swimmer, Plantation Oaks also has a junior Olympic-size lap pool.


Two regulation-sized basketball courts and two baseball/softball fields were placed on the opposite side of the main clubhouse area from the tennis garden. The landscape architects also designed an expansive meadow that informally links the park’s more organized elements with the lake and lakeside pavilion.

The pool area’s most recognized feature is a dual-flume waterslide and tower, which has both open and closed or “dark” slides.
Sliding photo: Garry McElwee

Landscape and Site Elements

Tree and shrub species were selected for their tolerance to the northeast Florida climate zone and regional appropriateness, including low-water consumption. The design includes more than 90 newly-planted live oaks, Mary Nells holly, southern magnolia, Washingtonia palms, flowering dogwood, pine, crape-myrtle, ligustrum and date palms. Site shrubs are a mix of species: several varieties of azalea and camellia, viburnum, dwarf burford holly, lorapetalum, saw palmetto, Indian hawthorne, African iris, Asiatic jasmine, knockout rose and varieties of daylily.

Conceptual Spray Ground Elevation

The firm employed qualified local companies to provide the hardscapes. The pavers specified were manufactured by Tremron, with shell finish for the pool areas, cobbled pavers in the auto court and traditional pavers for walkways. Fountains at the entry and gardens were manufactured by St. Augustine Cast Stone. The sprayground and slides in the pool area were manufactured by Compac.

England Thims & Miller prepared the planting design for the project, and Dicky Smith & Co. served as general contractor for the buildings and hardscape features. Landscape construction and irrigation was provided by Down To Earth Landscaping, and swimming pools were constructed by Swimming Pool Specialists.

Conceptual Water Spray Plan

Plantation Oaks

Community Park
at OakLeaf Plantation, Orange Park, Florida

Design Firm:
Ervin Lovett & Miller provided planning, architecture and landscape architecture

Sprayground design:
custom by Ervin Lovett & Miller

Sprayground engineering:
Terry Wilmotte and Paul Foster of North American Aquatic Design

General contractor:
Dicky Smith and Company

Pool contractor:
Swimming Pool Specialists

Landscape planting consultation:
England Thims & Miller

Landscape installation:
Down to Earth

Sprayground equipment and water slide:

Cast stone pots and fountains:
St. Augustine Cast Stone


Exterior light fixtures:
Beacon Lighting

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December 6, 2019, 12:39 pm PDT

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