A cramped mechanical room with rows and coils of pipes and tanks and turbines would seem to be the last place to get the feel for Palm Coast’s new splash park at Holland Park, that 10,000-square-foot festival of run-thru fountains and aquatic creatures surfacing here and there out of Captain Nemo’s imagination.
But if you look closely at the pipes, they tell the story. Each pipe is yellow-tagged with a name: “Spray Loop.” “Magic Mist No. 2.” “Wavy Palm.” “Foaming Geyser No. 2.” “Turtle No. 2/Frog No.1.” “Water Jelly No. 3.” “Cattail.” And so on down a line of dozens of such pipes, each linked the described creature or sculpture on the pad, each used to run its share of the 679 gallons a minute of water that run through the pad from two 3,000-gallon tanks before being recycled.
Children in their bathing suits and squeals pitched to the occasion ran through the jets the moment the (potable) water started gushing around 9:30 this morning. The children were oblivious to what must have looked to them like a strange huddle of unrecognizable men and women, some of them taking selfies, some of them just staring or smiling or taking pictures, all of them just standing there and not getting in.
Your loss, the kids must’ve thought, if they thought of the huddled mass at all. And why should they? As Andy Dance, the former school board member and current county commissioner remembers it, the very first thoughts of a splash pad in Palm Coast go back some 15 years to a concept first presented to the city by Gail Carson, when she called it a “frog park.”
“She had an idea and found me out as a landscape architect,” Dance said, “but she wanted to get a splash pad out here, it started I think with a wooden playground like they have down in Ormond, but then it transitioned to the splash pad. So early on Gail was influential in trying to work with city staff to get a splash pad out here. I can’t remember but I think I put together some color renderings for at the time.”
Contacted this afternoon, Carson said: “I am very happy that this project has come to fruition. Even though things took longer than expected, and it’s too late for my little one who is now almost 17 years old, I am truly happy for all the little ones in our community that this new play place will enrich from this point on. Thank you to all the volunteers who helped me get this idea off the ground, and thank you Milissa Holland for seeing it through.”
The park has since undergone three expansions and renovations (including the splash pad), spanning so many years that a good many people have grown out of traditional splash-pad ages along the way, though Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland this morning ended her speech with a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “We don’t stop playing, because we grow old, we grow old, because we stop playing.”
That huddled mass of some 75 people the children eyed with Shaw-worthy indifference had come out to mark the official opening and ribbon-cutting of the $5.1 million addition. “What a glorious day to welcome everyone to this magical place,” said Holland. The park bears the name of her father, one of the founding council members. “So today, as I look across the entirety of James Holland Park, I feel that my father is enjoying this right here alongside of all of us. And he’s grinning broadly because he’s so proud to see his legacy regenerating decades later in our city.”
As Holland spoke under a pavilion the water hadn’t started jetting out just then, but several children were already running around the pad, as if willing the water to start. “We are introducing our splash pad in a place that’s already one of our community’s most popular destinations,” Holland said, referring to the city’s most popular park: on some days, it’s as busy as any big-city park you can imagine, though it also offers more amenities–tennis, basketball, baseball, zipline, shaded bocce ball courts, horseshoe pits, playgrounds, dog park, pavilions, the odd location to go Wordsworth on nature–than any other city park. “It’s your new favorite place to get soaked and scream your head off while 22 colorful sea creatures spray at you with 40 shooting jets. Sounds like fun. You can also cool off in the luxurious shade of tree fronds or using a refreshing outdoor shower.”
Holland Park’s previous renovation, which had kept the park closed for over two years, was completed in spring 2017 at a cost of $4.7 million, and was planned as the first of two major phases. The splash pad was the second phase. “This was paid for by sales tax, meaning the Be Local Buy Local initiative. So visitors helped reinvest in our community, as well as local residents that made incredible decisions to keep their dollars locally to support a local business, keep businesses open, and at the same time keep costs down for the city because we didn’t go into any kind of debt to build this facility.”
Council member Nick Klufas had been part of the majority that had voted for the park’s splash pad two years ago. “I think every dollar that we spend on this park absolutely deserves to be spent here,” he said, “and the smiles on the children’s faces and the parents, the ease of mind to be able to come to a park of this caliber. It’s our flagship park, it’s a tremendous opportunity to have as I brought my father here the other day and he was blown away with the magnitude of this park.”
The city council approved the splash-pad expansion two years ago, but on a 3-2 vote, with Jack Howell and Eddie Branquinho opposed. Today, Branquinho was all smiles through the mist of the jets. “If anybody is depressed, this is the best cure for depression, come over here with your depression, and just look at the kids that will help you cure your depression,” Branquinho, who last year lost his son, said. “By looking at this, it brings the best out in me. It should be able to bring the best out of anybody out there, mean or not mean person. This should be the cure for depression.”
Howell, who resigned from the council for health reasons, was at home today. He said he’d have probably come out to the ribbon-cutting if he’d known about it, or been invited. “I wish them well, it’s a fait accompli, and we’ll see,” Howell said. “We’ll see if the technology has changed from the time I was familiar with up at Hanna Park.” Much of Howell’s opposition was driven by his experience with that park in Jacksonville, where a splash pad was opened, and where he said it became a magnet for injuries and liability.
But it was a concrete pad, and the surrounding grass was actual grass that turned to mud over time. None of that is the case at Holland Park. The pad is made entirely of almost bouncy rubber, absorbing the shock of any slip and fall. The surrounding grass is artificial, evergreen turf. The water isn’t Evian, but close. Howell acknowledged the changes, but still worried about “friction” between older kids who, say, might want to cool off after playing basketball, and younger children in the pad getting bullied.
“We spent all that money and I wish them well, but I know better in the sense that I had a conversation with Lauren Johnston, and a young man with an Australian accent,” Howell said, referring to James Hirst, the city’s outdoors recreation manager. “I said when you operate this thing you’d better have adults out there to manage that situation.”
The park is rimmed with 20 surveillance cameras, but it’s not been anywhere near a magnet for trouble or injuries. Busy as it is, diverse as it is, with people of all ages spread through the grounds, the park’s dynamics operate more like a true, communal city park where the spheres of younger people are implicitly respected, though an unusually high amount of fencing unquestionably helps draw boundaries. Assistant Fire Chief Brad Clark said medical calls to the park are rare, and he doesn’t expect the splash pad to change that. In two previous cities, he said, he’d had experience with splash pads in his career, and in neither place were they a problem. “It’s been a great amenity in the communities that I’ve served before,” Clark said. (Documents provided by Clark indicate that the overwhelming majority of calls to the park’s address were related to vehicle accidents or incidents unrelated to children or people in the park.)
“There’s not a place like this in any county near us,” Jill Woolbright, the school board member, said. “I mean this is almost like a resort.”