Glades board OKs tower for Harney Pond park

Lake Okeechobee News/Chris Felker
LAKEPORT — The present pavilion at Harney Pond Overlook Park; behind it is the present boardwalk over part of the canal leading to the open lake.

MOORE HAVEN — The Glades County commissioners unanimously approved preliminary drawings for the new Harney Pond Lookout Tower to be built at the overlook park off State Road 78 in Lakeport, one of the area’s most popular gathering places for tourists and sportsmen.

County Manager Bob Jones told the commissioners as they met the night of Monday, Feb. 24: “These are the engineering drawings for the scenic overlook at Harney Pond. I just want to get your final approval on it before we send it out for construction bids and to get the materials list.”

Building a new handicapped-friendly platform that will give viewers some height above the lake level sufficient for good photography, birdwatching and general observation opportunities has long been on the county’s wish list. But all such public structures now must be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which can add significantly to the price tag for government projects. It’s not yet known how much this tower will cost Glades County, but an estimate will be easier to produce once the final materials list and labor costs are known.

Showing them the drawings, Mr. Jones described the new tower: “As you can see, it’s ADA compliant for the first level and goes out to 10 feet and then rises as it turns … like a theme park, you gotta walk this way and this way. And the railing will be still cable; it won’t be wood or anything like that. That’ll take you to the first level, then the second level is made from the same thing, but it’s a little more elevated. There’s less there because you don’t need that same compliance going to the second level.”

The county had a rough drawing done by H.L. Bennett & Associates Inc., architects from LaBelle.

“So if you’re all good with this design … Mr. Bennett will get us a materials list and we can go out to bid to get you a construction price for it,” Mr. Jones said.

Several commissioners had questions. Chairman Tim Stanley wanted to know what it would be built on. Commissioner Donna Storter Long asked, too, about the materials to be used, noting they had talked about using a wood composite rather than concrete in some parts of the structure, as well as potential costs.

Public Works Director Archie Branch explained that they would use concrete pillars from the ground level as support, “then we go into steel pillars because of the height. The flooring will be wood. The cable that Bob spoke of will be the actual railing, the cables between the railings for pets and children — that will be to the top. Most of the construction, 80 percent, will be out of the wood material.”

Ms. Long said she preferred the composite, noting that it would be more durable than actual wood and more attractive than concrete. “It probably costs a lot more, but I say go for it.”

Commissioner Donald Strenth noted that if they have a concrete second-story platform, that would require more bracing, so the costs might still be comparable. Mr. Jones said he would ask for estimates on both and that they could change the specific materials later and bid it out however they preferred.

Mr. Branch said the dimension of the top, roof-covered platform would be 20 by 20 feet, extended out a few feet on one end to accommodate the ADA compliance ramps.

“So if you all can picture this … you’ve got the point where the old clubhouse used to be, the trail goes in; this section will come out off the existing trail at the far end. It’s actual a double construction because you’ll have a room at the bottom, also a pavilion with a picnic table underneath and also the lookout on the top.”

“Every day at this time of year when there’s a lot of tourists here, there’s somebody asking the places to go see the lake,” said Commissioner John Ahern.

Mr. Jones noted that there are only a few places that are elevated much so wide lake vistas are available. But he vowed that Glades County’s will be among the nicest, noting Okeechobee’s Lock 7 lake boardwalk and the U.S. 441/98 bridge at Port Mayaca really are the only spots other than the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail where one can view the lake from some height.

“If you look at this design, this thing is going to be nice,” Mr. Jones stated.

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