Lake Forest Elementary School in Gainesville hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday morning for its refurbished playground, which will also be used as a public park for the local community during non-school hours.
The project, which cost nearly $400,000, was funded half through the Wild Spaces & Public Places sales tax and half through impact fees. It was done by a partnership between the Alachua County School Board and Alachua County Parks & Open Space.
The facility improvements included the installation of a roof over the playground, new swing sets, an accessible sidewalk and a quarter-mile track. Alachua County Public Schools superintendent Shane Andrew emphasized the importance of building spaces that encourage and foster children’s development.
“As educators, we want our students to have a safe and engaging learning environment that promotes their academic, physical and social development. And what a better way to promote physical activities and socialization than with a brand-new playground,” he said.
“This beautiful facility, as we all know, will be a place not only for students to run, jump and play, but also to make new friends, explore their creativity, and develop essential skills like cooperation, communication and problem-solving,” Andrew said.
Andrew expressed hope that the playground will become a special place for children growing up in the area.
“I know this playground will serve as a place where people can enjoy fitness, fun and fellowship for years to come,” he said.
Alachua County School Board chair Tina Certain said she was grateful and proud of the county’s commitment to supporting initiatives like this.
“The voters and the citizens of Alachua County have been so generous, and they have bought into the vision of making the investment in our community, and for that I really do thank them,” she said. “I don’t know if there’s any other county anywhere in Florida where citizens have demonstrated the level of commitment to the well-being of children than here in Alachua County.”
Other speakers at the event included Alachua County manager Michele Lieberman, Lake Forest Elementary School principal Elizabeth LeClear, Alachua County commissioner Marihelen Wheeler, and Alachua County poet laureate E. Stanley Richardson.
Richardson shared a poem he had written about the occasion, which ended with the lines: “On a warm spring day, imagine this place, where Dolphins giggle and Dolphins play,” referencing the school’s mascot.
Dozens of students waited eagerly during the speeches and stampeded onto the playground, squealing with excitement, the moment the ribbon was cut.
The playground will be open to the public on weekdays from 6 p.m. to sunset and on weekends from sunrise to sunset.