On Wednesday, July 21, the City of Winter Park Parks & Recreation Department held its July board meeting, a gathering the Concerned Families Who Play at Phelps Playground has been preparing for to voice community concerns about the newly renovated Phelps Park playground. Prior to last week’s meeting, Christine Williams, spokeswoman for the group, encouraged locals who share similar concerns to accompany her to the meeting to request the installation of the $24,000 Fitness Challenge playground structure by Miracle Recreation, an initiative the Help Fix Phelps group believes will make the park better suited for older children.
Leading up to the City’s meeting, Williams was confident that the group was doing the right thing by advocating for the older children who want to return to play at Phelps again, however, she felt a huge amount of responsibility in representing so many Winter Park residents. According to Williams, the group created a brief PowerPoint presentation for the meeting that included issues with the new park, a proposed solution, and misinterpretations or omissions in the Parks & Recreation Department’s presentation. Letters from locals absent from the meeting came in handy when Williams found herself with only three minutes to show the entire presentation, a much shorter speaking time than they expected.
According to Williams, the community center staff usually sets up 16 chairs for Parks & Recreation Advisory Board meetings — this time, they put out 50, and the room still felt crowded, and one of the advisory board members said, “Look at all these people – there is usually no one here.” According to Williams, the City recognized that residents’ needs had “obviously” not been met and that a more open and transparent process should be prioritized; additionally, one board member suggested that the City engage a group of youth ambassadors who could provide input as part of the process, an idea with which the group “couldn’t agree more.”
The KOMPAN sales representative who sold the current playground equipment to the City also explained the new equipment at Phelps Park is for children between 2 to 12 years old, however, a member of the advisory board acknowledged that the company doesn’t sell the Fitness Challenge structure and the representative was unable to offer an objective assessment of the playground due to conflict of interest. “It just shows that we need to take care of these kids and restore their playground because they make the world a better place just by being kids,” Williams said. “I think it was the first time in this entire process that any kids were allowed to voice their opinions and concerns to the people who had the power to change their beloved playground.”
Ultimately, the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board agreed that there should be more communication between the City and residents during the park renovation process and, in the future, they should have more open dialogue to meet community needs. Advisory board members blocked the City’s initial recommendation to replace a campfire-looking structure at the playground with one of two small pieces of equipment. The board members who opposed the swap-out claimed they didn’t want to repeat the mistakes made during the recent renovation.
The decision for additional structures in Phelps Park Playground has been placed on hold, and residents who attended the meeting felt this was appropriate assuming the City continues with a more open renovation process. The Fitness Challenge structure will remain on the table as one of several options to consider throughout the future design process, and the advisory board expressed concern for the renovation of the community playground at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, which is now in the planning stages. According to Williams, the City’s goal is to benefit from the lessons learned during the Phelps Playground renovation to avoid making similar mistakes.
Looking forward, Williams and her team plan to reach out to those who attended the meeting or sent letters of support to conduct an informal needs assessment for Phelps Playground. Locals interested in supporting the community effort are asked to attend the City’s next meeting where the group will advocate for its initiative to city commissioners on Wednesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. at Winter Park City Hall.
“We are just so honored and thankful to the families [who] are taking the time to get involved in our effort, and we welcome participation from anyone interested in restoring Phelps Playground,” Williams said. “Our kids deserve the best play spaces that we can provide. We hope our efforts have a positive effect upon not just Phelps Playground, but all the playgrounds of Winter Park.”
For more information about the Help Fix Phelps campaign, visit the website.