The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District unveiled a newly reimagined accessible playground this past Saturday at famed Sugar Sand Park, 300 South Military Trail, Boca Raton, Florida.

The $2 million, two-years-in-the-making interactive Science Playground was designed for children and families of all abilities.  A ceremonial ribbon cutting officially opened the play area to dozens upon dozens of eager children who quickly scampered to explore a structure that resembles an old western wooden fortress, complete with towers, ramps and connecting walkways. There’s even a misting water feature for kids to walk, run or roll through. The event was hosted by District Commissioners and City of Boca Raton officials and VIPS’s.

The original Science Playground, totally built by volunteers, opened its gates in 1995 and was widely recognized for its novel attractions and unique offerings, which include an antique-like merry go round. As early as 2007, Sugar Sand was named “The Best of the Best Parks.”

“Over time,” said Commissioner Steve Engel, “We noticed that children with mobility issues were struggling with some of the attractions we offered in the playground. That’s when we realized they were inaccessible to children with special needs. Clearly improvements were needed.”

So in 2014 with a hefty financial commitment from the Greater Boca Raton Parks District, the Board of Commissioners retained a nationally known design firm recognized for creating universally designed playgrounds. The firm was asked to reimagine how the Science Playground might set new standards in excellence for welcoming children with all abilities by creating an inviting, safe and secure environment.  Their joint efforts have resulted in the following improvements and added attractions to the existing facility:

  • The addition of accessible equipment and play structures
  • Replacing all existing wood chip surface with rubber surfaces
  • Replacing all decking, railings, and balusters
  • Creating a playground pathway for better orientation and safety
  • Improving accessible parking
  • Improving bus access and loading areas
  • Improving pedestrian entry to playground
  • Increasing areas for gathering of groups for picnics and relaxation
  • Providing accessibility to third floor levels

Efforts to improve the playground first took wing in 2013 when District Commissioners teamed with the City of Boca Raton Disability Advisory Board to address the park’s need for universally designed playground equipment.  Designers, the District and the City Board, which was subsequently disbanded, set about to create new standards of excellence for playground accessibility, family enjoyment and guest safety, while never losing sight of the playground’s very impressive WOW factor. “We’re excited to have this incredible structure open again,” said Briann Harms, assistant director of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District.

Commissioners all agreed that every child should have the right to play in a magnificent playground no matter his or her physical or mental abilities. “It is our hope that this playground, which we believe is the finest in America, creates an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance, utilizing play time to change a generation of children for the better,” said Commissioner Steve Engel.

ABOUT SUGAR SAND PARK

Sugar Sand Park is a public recreational park spanning 132 acres of protected woodlands and open fields.  Created in 1995 by the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Parks District, it is operated by the City of Boca Raton.  The park is located at 300 South Military Trail at the intersection of Military Trail and Palmetto Park Road.  The park offers picnic tables, six baseball fields, two basketball courts and an inline hockey court.  There is also a field house that hosts basketball league tournaments, special events, and classes in sports like fencing and Tae Kwon Do. Volley ball and basketball are regularly played there as well.  The park offers nature trails, a Science Explorium, the 155 seat Willow Theatre and a whimsical carousel that is accessible to people in wheelchairs.  For further information call 561-347-3900.

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Jay Van Vechten has been a full time resident of Boca Raton since 1997. His family settled in the community in 1970. Jay spent his 40 year career in the public relations and marketing communications business in New York City. His company was among the top 30 independently owned and operated firms in the nation, with clients that included Johnson & Johnson, Hearst Publishing, New York State tourism, Tylenol, Miss Universe, Inc., the American Dental Association and Acu-Vue Contact Lenses. Disabilities changed Jay’s life when he was critically injured in a fall in 2001. Two years later he joined the City of Boca Raton Disability Advisory Board, which he went on to chair for two years. That board was recently disbanded by the city. In 2008 Jay approached the city about starting the Boating & Beach Bash for People with Disabilities. Initially a city-driven and supported event, the city withdrew its sponsorship of the event three years later and relinquished control to Jay and his team of volunteers. The group went on to create the largest free, fun-day in the nation for kids, adults and wounded warriors. Held each March in Spanish River Park, the award winning Bash now attracts 5,000 guests annually and is supported by 500 volunteers drawn from every sector of the community. Jay and his wife Lowell have one son, Nicholas, a Triage Medic in the US Army.

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