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Sensing something great: New park catering to special needs kids opens next month

Work on the 1.5-acre Senses Park, located at the intersection of Florida Parkway and Buenaventura Boulevard, began in June.

A new “all inclusive” playground designed to accommodate special needs children is set to open in Kissimmee next month.

The park is called “Senses,” and it’s built with children like 6-year-old Jase in mind.

Jase was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder, which makes it difficult for him to distinguish voices in crowded places.

His mom, Osceola County resident Angela Mikolajek, said traditional playgrounds can be overwhelming and sometimes stressful because it’s hard for Jase to hear her.

But Senses Park isn’t like traditional playgrounds.

Brightly painted equipment is spread out so children can explore at their own pace while strategically placed shrubs and bushes help block out the noise of nearby traffic.

Mikolajek said she’s excited to see a project like this open in Osceola County.

“It shows that we as a community are not only accepting but embracing those who are differently abled than us,” she said.

Work on the 1.5-acre park, located at the intersection of Florida Parkway and Buenaventura Boulevard, began in June.

It repurposes the old Buenaventura Lakes fire station lot, which moved to a new location last year.

Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer – whose district includes the new park – said she wanted to bring a project like this to the community after parents in district 2 told her how challenging it can be to take their special needs children to traditional playgrounds.  

Now that it’s about to open, Janer said she’s excited for Osceola County to offer this unique resource.

“Senses Park will help families create happy memories for many, many years,” she said.

Osceola County Public Lands Manager Bob Mindick worked with Janer on the park’s details and design. He said Senses will be a great outlet for children, especially those on the autism spectrum.

“This isn’t just about slides and swings,” Mindick said. “This is something really unique that kids of all ages can enjoy.”

Project design plans took elements like population density, noise control and playground equipment size into consideration to better serve its special target audience.

The park is small enough to gate and enclose, ensuring a more controlled environment where kids can safely wander and explore. A local business is helping the county install a sound system that will broadcast soft, ambient music throughout the park.

Unlike standard playgrounds, which often feature a centralized area with one or two large structures, Senses Park uses multiple, smaller play places for children who may be overwhelmed by big, unfamiliar groups.

Color-coordinated pavilions and benches are located around the property to offer families shade and relaxation.

A unique interactive music station encourages self-expression and creativity, while a fun sandbox with hidden dinosaur fossils gives kids a place to play and explore.

And since Senses is all inclusive, there’s even a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round on site.

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

The playground was originally slated to open November 2018 but faced some unforeseen minor delays. It’s now expected to open in mid-February, though an official ribbon cutting date has yet to be announced.