The 35-foot-tall observation tower at Wall Springs Park in Pinellas County, Fla., offers stunning views of the park and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. A regional gem, the tower and about 30 feet of ramp leading to it were destroyed by arson on Sept. 11, 2013.
In the midst of an arduous five-year reconstruction project, park engineers realized the boardwalks surrounding the tower and the fishing pier were worn and rotting. They chose to replace the decking with MoistureShield Vantage composite decking for those areas to reduce maintenance and increase longevity. "The original boardwalks installed in 2002 had begun to deteriorate and were becoming a safety hazard," said John Linton. P.E., senior engineer, parks engineering and design, for Pinellas County. "We then changed the scope of the tower project to include new decking for the boardwalk and fishing pier so the whole area of the park would be updated and safe by the time the tower reopened to the public."
The construction contractor on the project presented MoistureShield Vantage in Cape Cod Gray to the county as an alternative to the three composite materials on their preapproved list. "I reviewed all the documentation and found it equal to or better than the others, so we approved it," Linton said.
MoistureShield Vantage is an uncapped wood composite board with a matte finish that evokes the look of real hard wood.
"The color is consistent throughout the board and it cut just the same as wood—even better because it didn't splinter when cut," Linton said. "And, with wood-grain texture on both sides, contractors didn't have to worry about which side they were flipping up."
Additionally, there's no need for painting, staining and yearly repairs and Vantage is completely resistant to moisture, rot and warping. This was significant in Wall Springs Park because most of the boardwalks are in submerged swamp areas where they receive very little sunlight and are moist most of the day.
"When we first built the boardwalks, the cost of composite decking was considered astronomical. Now, we're finding the pressure-treated wood doesn't hold up as long as it used to and we're facing more frequent, costly replacements," Linton said. "The longevity of the composite, as well as the reduced maintenance needs, have made it much more cost-effective."
For longer spans required by commercial boardwalks, the 2x6 profile was used for the decking. The boardwalks are 6-feet, 9-inches wide with an inside handrail. Linton pointed out that this was the only composite product they looked at that offered a 2x8 profile that could be used for the top plates on the railings. The rail system has a 6x6 post and 2x2 rails with galvanized metal mesh inset.
Time was of the essence with this project as the area of the park in which the tower, boardwalks and pier reside was closed off to the public during the entire project. The community was eager to see it reopen, especially when there were setbacks. "We found out from the building department that the code had changed a bit since the tower was first built in 2004 and we now needed to have a switchback ramp to be compliant," Linton said. "We were also working with the insurance company after the fire, so that caused further delays."
As a Certified Arborist, Linton appreciates the sustainability aspect of the project. "Why not recycle and reuse materials if you can? I think it's great," he said, adding that the product's longevity also contributes environmental benefit. "If it lasts as long as it should, I won't have to replace any of these before I retire."
The entire reconstruction project was completed in time for the community to enjoy the park on July 4, 2018. The total cost was $2.3 million, of which the boardwalk and pier comprised $250,000.
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