A pool filled with brownish-green water and surrounded by toppled-over chairs, a locked playground, boarded windows and sagging yellow caution tape: This is the current landscape of a once-vibrant Oviedo staple.
Riverside Park on Lockwood Boulevard sustained severe damage from Hurricane Ian when it roared through the area on Sept. 29, unleashing 15 inches of rain within 24 hours. The park, which was slated to start offering daily senior programming starting on Oct. 1, has been closed ever since.
“When Hurricane Ian came through and flooded everything, nothing like that had ever happened in this community,” Oviedo resident Fred Larson, who lives close to the park, told the Oviedo City Council at a Dec. 5 meeting. “Riverside Park kind of buttoned up, and folks walked away.
“It’s like an abandoned property,” he added.
Ian flooded the Riverside Park Community Center with 25 inches of water, destroying anything sitting below the waterline, including equipment, wall partitions and the system that runs and cleans the pool, Recreation and Parks Director Paul Belden said.
“It was just devastation like we’ve never seen,” City Manager Bryan Cobb said.
The drab, lifeless surroundings of the park have led to concern among those who love it.
“Riverside Park, with the skate park, with the community building, with the racquetball courts, with the tennis courts, with the beautiful field and the river running through it, plays a tremendous role that cannot be overstated,” Larson said.
The park’s facilities are currently undergoing an assessment, which is not expected to be completed until at least mid-January. The assessment includes inspecting the facility’s electrical, structural and plumbing infrastructure. City officials are working with insurance companies, engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine estimated costs and rebuilding timelines.
The reason for the lengthy assessment is the extensive damage the facility endured. It was so bad, officials were unable to access the racquetball courts because the floors bowed up so high, they blocked the door opening.
“You couldn’t get in,” Belden said. “You could actually look underneath the floor to the concrete.”
While the pool and main building remain indefinitely closed until the assessment is complete, there is good news for park-goers: The skate park, playground and tennis courts are anticipated to reopen on Dec. 17, Belden said.
With the park’s restroom facilities still closed to the public, portable restrooms will be brought in for both the skate park and the tennis court.
Riverside’s community center was set to begin offering classes for seniors on Oct. 1, a plan that had to be put on hold due to the storm.
Belden said the senior center will still eventually open at the center, though there is no timeline yet. The necessary renovations, which include replacing cabinetry, the kitchen and other key areas, will allow it to function more efficiently than planned, because it can be built with the senior center in mind, Belden said.
The eventual re-opening of the entirety of the Riverside Park facilities will be a bright light for the surrounding community, Larson said.
“Our children, our families have gone through… a great deal of stress in the last several years,” he said. “Recreational facilities are not a nice-to-have for a community; they speak directly to the quality of life.”