When people with disabilities come to the visitor center at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park from now on, they will find it easier to access.
That’s because the center — which opened its doors Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony after being closed since August 2015 — has been extensively renovated, with special emphasis placed on bringing it into compliance with ADA requirements, said James Perran Ross, president of Friends of Paynes Prairie.
The reception area, auditorium and restrooms were renovated to be more accessible. In addition, the patio, which overlooks the prairie, was enclosed to minimize problems with humidity and bugs, Ross said.
Other work included stabilizing the foundation, expanding the size and layout of the center, and installing audio-visual systems. Altogether, the renovations cost $750,000.
“We felt the space could be more useful with a different configuration and setup,” Ross said. “We wanted to take the opportunity to upgrade the exhibits to fix it and to comply with the ADA requirements the visitors center was overdue on.”
The center at 100 Savannah Blvd. in Micanopy had not seen construction since the 1980s, when it first opened.
It has exhibits that showcase different ecosystems in the park, and though they were expanded in the renovations, they weren’t fully updated by the time of the reopening. Attendees of Wednesday’s ceremony were able to see poster versions of how the park wants the exhibits to eventually look once they are updated.
The $750,000 project was funded by the state, the Friends of Paynes Prairie and a variety of private citizens and organizations.
Dave Hartley, a volunteer at Payne’s Prairie for the past four years who also works at the visitor center on Friday afternoons, was at the event and said he was excited to see the new center because it hadn’t been renovated in more than 30 years.
“The center needed a lot of work,” he said.
Ross said he believes the new layout will help better explain to visitors the environmental importance of the prairie.
“We are working on upgrading everything to be compatible with modern devices,” he said. “We are now able to present the importance of the prairie in a way that’s compelling and interesting to visitors of the park.”