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Bay Oaks has big plans, says goodbye to parks director

January 2, 2019
By JESSE MEADOWS ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach's local recreational center and pool could see big changes in 2019.

The Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board met Dec 20 to discuss the acquisition of a land parcel that is strategically positioned to create an entrance to the campus off Estero Boulevard, which they say is needed due to a lack of public awareness about the campus.

"All we've ever had is that little entrance out there, just that little walkway," said Betty Simpson, the committee's chair.

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The Bay Oaks Recreational Advisory Board hopes this sign will soon mark an official entrance to the campus off Estero Boulevard.


"We've been working on this for a long time, and it just breaks my heart to hear somebody say, where's Bay Oaks? Because it is so important to our community."

"Of course if you've got kids, you know where it is, if you're a little older, you've probably got a senior program, but there are a lot of people that don't fit in either of those categories," she said.

Since May, the committee has been working on a strategic action plan that will help create more educational programming, provide recreational amenities that are widely accessible, and get the community more involved.

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The new parcel of land is part of this plan.

The empty plot was acquired by the Town of Fort Myers Beach in a recent land swap deal with the Lighthouse Resort.

Simpson said during the meeting that it's often difficult for older residents to reach the facilities at Bay Oaks, and she'd like to see a community building put in that's more easily accessible.

The parcel will also become part of the "Heart of the Island" initiative, which began in early 2018 when community groups and businesses south of Times Square saw a need for a comprehensive design and strategy to draw more visitors to the island's center.

Parks and Recreation Director Sean de Palma told the committee that they would open bids in January for a firm to redesign the parcel.

A selection advisory committee will be formed with members from BORCAB, the Community Resource Advisory Board, and the Historic Preservation Board, and meetings will be held to gather public opinion before making a recommendation to Town council.

De Palma told the board that he met with representatives from LeeTran, who proposed the possibility of making Bay Oaks an official trolley stop.

"We were discussing reformatting the parking lot to create a safe flow of traffic coming into the facility," he said.

But that's not the only improvement project going on at Bay Oaks.

Recently, the Parks Department upgraded the center's pickleball courts.

"Pickleball is a very popular sport in this town. We went from six courts last year to having eight courts inside and three courts outside," said de Palma.

"The vision is to create a better venue to host tournaments, especially during summertime. So now we have new lighting in there, a new floor, new basketball rings, and backboards that are motorized as well."

He also informed the committee of plans to resurface the rec center's kiddie pool and lap pool and install a new water playground in 2019.

"It's going to be one of the bigger projects of the year for the department," he told the board.

De Palma will be leaving the Parks Department toward the end of January, having accepted a new position in the Atlanta, Georgia area.

"It was not an easy decision. It's one I had to make because of desires to grow professionally," he said, reassuring the board that the department is in healthy financial shape and he has left his staff with a solid plan that should ensure Bay Oaks will not see a drop in service.

"You have done so much with Bay Oaks," Mayor Tracey Gore told de Palma at the meeting.

"We thank you for leaving it in better condition than you found it."



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