County breaks ground on park for autistic kids

Above is a rendering of “Senses Park,” that Osceola County plans to develop in Buenaventura Lakes.

By Rachel Christian

Staff Writer

Officials broke ground Tuesday on a new community park specially designed to accommodate the needs of children with autism and other sensory disorders.

The 1.5-acre lot, located at the intersection of Florida Parkway and Buenaventura

Above is a rendering of “Senses Park,” that Osceola County plans to develop in Buenaventura Lakes.

Boulevard in Kissimmee, will become the first Osceola County park planned with special needs children in mind.

The working title of the project is “Senses Park: An All-Inclusive Playground.”

It’s a unique milestone that County Public Lands Manager Bob Mindick said his department has been pursuing for over five years.

“Residents had asked local leaders, including County Commissioner Viviana Janer, if there was any kind of park or play area for children with autism,” Mindick said. “Once we began researching it, we realized how beneficial this could be for a number of children in the community.”

Mindick and his team had a clear vision, but struggled to find the right location to make the new park a reality.

The opportunity finally arrived last year when Fire Station 62 in Buenaventura Lakes transferred to its new location, leaving its former site on Buenaventura Boulevard vacant.

Mindick said the site is a nearly perfect fit for the project. The property already has utility connections for lights, restrooms and other groundwork essentials. It’s also easily accessible and within walking distance for many residents.

The county ultimately demolished the old station last month and cleared the lot to make way for its long-awaited park.

Project design plans take elements like noise control, population density and playground equipment size into consideration to better serve its unique target audience, Mindick said.

The space is small enough to gate and enclose, ensuring a more controlled environment where children can safely wander and explore their environment. Bushes and trees planted around the perimeter will help buffer traffic noises that can distress autistic children, Mindick said.

The design of the playground equipment also features the project’s inclusive theme.

Standard playgrounds often feature a centralized play area comprised of one or two large structures. But designs for Senses Park will use multiple, smaller play places for children who may be overwhelmed by big, unfamiliar groups. Plans also call for several small color-coordinated pavilions and a special interactive play area featuring musical fixtures children can play.

“We really wanted this to be a park that evokes all the senses,” Mindick said. “The elements we chose all provide that kind of stimulation.”

The project is being completed by local contractor Quinn Construction at an estimated cost of $875,000. The money will come from the county’s general fund, but Mindick said private community partners are already stepping up to help donate time and equipment.

Senses Park is scheduled to open this November.