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Bay Oaks brainstorms

Residents, staff discuss a plan for the future.

May 30, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Following a month-long closure to replace the gymnasium floor, Bay Oaks staff and patrons are tackling a bigger project.

Planning for the future.

Thursday night was the second meeting in an effort to create a new strategic plan for the Parks and Recreation Department's future.

Article Photos

Bay Oaks staffer Dominic Earhart shows off the renovated weight room during the grand reopening.

Bay Oaks invited the public to attend Thursday's brainstorming session - and the invite brought in both dedicated patrons and residents who had never stepped foot in the facility.

Michelle Marchand Canseco guided the discussion amongst approximately 20 attendees.

One of the big focuses of the meeting was to gather what Bay Oaks, and the Parks and Rec Department, could do better or could improve upon, Director Sean De Palma said.

Fact Box

What do you think about the town's Parks and Recreation?

The Parks and Recreation Department of Fort Myers Beach is still seeking feedback from residents and visitors about its facilities, programming and opportunities. To take the survey, go online at The survey contains 22 questions.

And the attendees had lots of suggestions.

More workout classes after 5 p.m.

A skate park for beach kids.

A fitness trail.

A corn hole tournament.

Showers and locker rooms.

But the biggest thing to come from the meeting? Better advertisement of what's going on at the free-for-residents campus.

"Not enough people know what we offer, and we need to find more ways of getting the story out," said Dave Anderson, one of the attendees.

One couple who attended said although they'd been residents for a number of years, they'd never been to Bay Oaks. They even had trouble finding the main building.

"The visibility needs work. If you don't know what's here, you won't come," Dan Allers said.

Amy Gillette, co-owner of Tuckaway Bagel Caf, said she recently told some of her customers about the Bay Oaks pool, and they were thrilled to have something else to do with their children besides going to the beach. But a lot of people don't know the pool is there, she said, and with a slide, kiddie pool and obstacle course, people are missing out.

"The pool is fantastic. There's no advertising there's a pool here," she said.

She also said the pool needed to have a concession stand, so people could by drinks and snacks for their kids.

Bay Oaks budget is always a bone of contention during the Town Council's budget season. Allers suggested the Bay Oaks staff needed to find more volunteers willing to dedicate some time to organizing activities that would be more inclusive.

Staff tried to start up a kickball league earlier this year, and Rick Loughrey said he was frustrated when he and his wife, Amy, rounded up 30 people to play, only to find out not enough others signed up and the league was canceled. Loughrey was also a part of some previous planning efforts for the campus; the last time, he said they did a whole plan and a 5-year capital improvement budget and turned it into Town Hall, where it then "disappeared."

"When council votes on the budget, Bay Oaks is the first thing that gets cut," he said. "It should have the funding it needs to run and have the staff you need."

Lee Melsek, a Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board member, said if those in attendance really wanted to make any of the changes they wanted, they needed to lobby the council.

"Past governments have been terribly neglectful of this place," he said. "They're going to have to be told what you want, and that you're serious, otherwise we're blowing smoke."?Melsek grew up on Fort Myers Beach and remembers when Bay Oaks was built. He'd like to see the institutions in the heart of the island, such as the campus, the school, the United Methodist Church and the public library, be designated as a historic neighborhood. He doesn't want the kind of designation that would limit renovations or restrict building, but something to draw attention to the area. Then, he hopes the town could create some kind of festival that could commemorate the area.

"Bring the 6,000 people who pay the bills here," he said. "Maybe a concert, a dance in the street. Schedule events."?Megan Zelenak also wanted to see the space used for some more small-scale festivals, like a Christmas bazaar or arts show. Bay Oaks is the home of the very popular Fright Night at Halloween, but that's once a year. Having festivals or events people would want to attend could bring in people who don't normally come to Bay Oaks and give the facility the chance for exposure.

"It has such a great space," she said.

Thursday was the second of two meetings; the first meeting took place earlier this year with the Bay Oaks advisory board. Now, with comments from the board and the public, Marchand Canseco will start working with Parks and Recreation staff to focus and prioritize the items that came out of the meetings into a 5-year strategic plan for the department.

"It will really clarify what we want, just with parks and recreation," she said. "Prioritizing is the issue."



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