inPRACTICE / PLAYGROUNDS: The Playground of the Future
Highland Recreation Complex // Largo, Fla.
The Highland Recreation Complex in Largo, Fla., is a hub of recreational activities, with programs, classes and events to meet just about any need. In addition to the facility with its indoor playground, walking track, party rooms, preschool, basketball courts, fitness center and more, the site is also home to the Highland Family Aquatic Center and, now, a new, futuristic playground that has been wowing visitors since its opening in January 2021.
As the Largo Park and Recreation Department began to consider replacing the existing approximately 20-year-old playground at the site, they were eager to include towers to allow kids to experience the thrill of climbing, but at the same time, they were concerned that the new playground fit in with the surrounding environment, which features many mature, shade-providing trees.
"There was some original thought into just updating the existing structure, as it was still in good condition," said Scott Brushwood, sales consultant with Rep Services Inc. in Longwood, Fla. "However, the city decided to replace the entire playground area."
As part of the bid process, several designs were presented, Brushwood said, and ultimately, the "Hedra" system from Landscape Structures was selected. It includes a play structure for 2-to-5-year-olds, and a two-tower structure for 5-to-12-year-olds, all from the Hedra family, along with independent play components, including a spinner.
"The colors were selected to blend with the surrounding park area," Brushwood added. "The playground space has a number of trees and brush around and throughout the space. The playground is positioned so it is incorporated into this landscape."
The two-tower playground reaches a height of around 22 feet and is a customized piece featuring an intricate cable climbing system for access to the towers. A bridge connecting the towers includes climbing features, and two long slides give kids a thrilling ride back to the ground.
"This is not your backyard playground," said Largo Parks and Recreation Assistant Superintendent Greg Wright in an article for Tampa Bay Newspapers (Jan. 27, 2021). "That was one of the goals—we wanted to create an adventure for the kids."
But before the adventure could begin, several challenges had to be addressed. The biggest, Brushwood said, "… was the arrangement and installation of the structures within the heavily treed and landscaped play area."
He added, "The tower structures are large, and being in Florida, require a substantial-sized foundation for installation. We conducted a site survey and laid the equipment out, adjusting orientations to preserve the natural habitat as much as possible."
The playground team worked closely with city staff on the project, using their recommendations and making adjustments as needed in order to meet all the goals of the project.
Great communication and teamwork between the installation team and city personnel helped address the challenges of the installation. "Multiple site meetings and adjustments provided a solution to in-the-field concerns, and a great end result was produced," Brushwood said. "The install team's knowledge of the equipment and install process also proved crucial to make small changes and get the equipment to 'fit.'"
In just the first couple of weeks after the playground opened on Jan. 15, 2021, plenty of families had already come to visit, Wright said, adding that one young visitor called it "the playground of the future."
"It really is one of the coolest parks in Pinellas County," Wright said. RM
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