Gainesville leaders cut the ribbon on the city’s first boundless and first fully lighted playground at Albert “Ray” Massey Park, following a complete $2 million renovation.
The construction started in August 2022 and finished last month, and a separate renovation continues at the H. Spurgeon Cherry Pool also located at the park. The city has financed both projects through the Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) surtax.
The playground follows a space theme, mirroring the space walk on the opposite side of NW 8th Avenue, and city staff partnered with UF and Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) to make it a “boundless” playground, allowing access by children of all abilities.
Elisa Wern, lead occupational therapist at ACPS, said the parks communications board features words for action and words to build sentences, similar to the boards used within the district.
“Having access to it as they play will help them build the skills we want them to use both in school and in life,” Wern said in a city release.
The playground also features sloping ramps leading into the “Space Station.” The ramps are wide enough for visitors in wheelchairs or crutches. The park also has electrical outlets throughout to support medical equipment.
“Everything – including the new swings, slides and spinners – is also designed for care providers at any level of mobility to be able to help children on and off the equipment,” said Betsy Waite, city director of WSPP.
Mayor Harvey Ward spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and thanked voters for backing the WSPP initiative in November 2022 and approving the one-cent surtax for the next 10 years. He said the program has allowed the city to completely transform old playgrounds and even build brand new ones like Unity Park in the northeast.
“We didn't just put a Band-Aid on it,” Ward said of the old playground. “We rebuilt this thing from the ground up. We made this, as the city manager said, for everyone in Gainesville—for everyone at every ability level because that matters in our community.”
Behind Ward, kids already clattered to and from different sections of the playground. Commissioner Bryan Eastman represents the park and said he had to drag his daughter away after an hour and a half of play.
He also noted that the area is a community space for more than kids. He said they ran into friends from his daughter's daycare and talked with the man preparing his will.
“I could talk to him outside of normal work,” Eastman said. “It becomes a part of what brings community together, and that's what we do when we design public spaces like this.”