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A new playground focused on inclusivity, and accessibility will replace the current playground at Fleischmann Park in Naples.

The playground just south of Coastland Center was built 17 years ago and is one of the busiest in the county. Maintenance is becoming harder to sustain, according to city staff.

“Every other playground within the city of Naples has gotten a renovation or facelift or a whole new playground since [the Fleischmann Park playground was built],” Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jennifer Fox said. “We seem to have forgotten this big, huge playground that gets a lot of use over at Fleischmann Park. And it’s one of the parks I absolutely adore.”

In a recent study conducted at the park with more than 900 people participating, half of them said they aren’t satisfied with the current conditions of the playground. About 20% of the participants expressed Americans with Disabilities Act components are essential to implement. Therefore, the city deemed it necessary to focus on child accessibility and inclusivity in a newly renovated playground.

Out of five major playground companies, the city chose the design proposal of Play & Park Structures, one of the largest manufacturers in the country. Plans for the new park include having equipment that is not only accessible for those with physical disabilities but also focuses on accommodating those living with conditions such as autism.

One of the unique additions to the playground will be Play & Park’s signature Temple Trolley, a swivel-like carriage system where the user can glide, swing and spin simultaneously. This equipment can benefit individuals with autism by providing sensory-rich movement that can also produce a calming effect for some children.

Almost half of the participants in the city’s survey said the park is not challenging enough for their children. As a result, a comprehensive amusement-style ropes course will be built for children looking for a higher level of activity.

“There’s so many different activities, and that’s what you want in a playground, a kid just going from one to another and getting lost in that play space,” said Tom Casey, national director of sales at Play and Park.

The park is estimated to cost the city more than $900,000, which eclipses the project’s budget by $100,000. In response, the Community Foundation of Collier County, led by Eileen Connolly-Keesler, granted the city $100,000 to support the project at Fleischmann Park. The money derives from the foundation’s “Your Passion. Your Collier.” campaign, which raises money for various projects within the county.

Connolly-Kessler sees parks as an essential aspect of every community and is glad to see the county focusing on maintaining these public spaces. “[Parks give] access without charging, which is so important for people especially in a time when we’re looking at recession, when inflation is high and it’s just expensive to go do things, especially when you have kids, and especially when you have kids who have disabilities,” she said.

The foundation hopes the county continues to focus on increasing inclusivity and accessibility within parks for locals of Southwest Florida.

“As much as we say, kids, it could be adults who are using these parks,” Connolly-Keesler said. “People start thinking disability and they think kids in wheelchairs, but it could be seniors who want to get into these parks and be able to use this amazing resource at no cost. We have to set ourselves up here so that anybody has access.”

The park design received unanimous support from Naples City Council. Although a construction date isn’t set yet, Interim Community Services Director Chad Merritt wants to get the project started as soon as possible.

“We’re kind of at a point right now where if we don’t push this project forward, we’re looking at a potential [cost] increase that would put us even farther outside of our budget, Merrit said. “So I don’t want to do that.”

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