Where a 40-foot castle will stand, a grid of steel bars and a foundation of gray cinder blocks provide a basic outline.
Two linked circles of flattened clay inside a wooden framework hint at what will be a pool in which children will race around on jet boats.
Near the park’s north end, a cement slab bordered by curving, 42-inch wooden walls offers a glimpse of what will be an artificial pond for more gentle boating experiences.
With nine months until the planned opening of Legoland Florida, general manager Adrian Jones said construction is proceeding on schedule.
“We are on budget and on time,” Jones said.
Merlin Entertainments Group, Legoland’s corporate owner, bought the former Cypress Gardens property last January for a reported $22.3 million, designating it to be the world’s fifth Legoland park. Last August, Legoland selected PCL Construction Services as lead contractor for construction work. PCL, headquartered in Denver with an office in Orlando, has overseen construction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort and the Jungala exhibit at Busch Gardens.
Employees from PCL and sub-contractors, wearing bright-green shirts and hard hats, toiled throughout the 150-acre property Wednesday afternoon. At the foundation for the Dragon Coaster, an indoor-outdoor roller coaster that passes through a castle, workers hammered steel reinforcing bars into place and used a power saw to slice up cinder blocks. Masons from a fittingly named sub-contractor, Castle Construction, fitted cinder blocks into the footing of the castle, which will be visible from Old Helena Road to the east.
In what will be the Land of Adventure, a worker pushed a plate compactor to smooth out dirt in preparation for pouring the cement floor of the AquaZone Wave Racer ride.
A local company, Tucker Construction and Engineering of Winter Haven, is working as a direct contractor for Legoland. Mark Atterson, a project manager, said Tucker is doing renovations to “back of house” buildings that Legoland Florida will use for facilities, maintenance and administration.
Atterson said Tucker Paving, a division of the company, is doing demolition and other work as a sub-contractor for PCL. He said Tucker has had 20 to 25 employees on site in recent days and will be working at the property until the summer.
Jones, the general manager, previously oversaw the opening of Madame Toussads Hollywood and construction of the Legoland Discover Center in Illinois. As Jones sat in his modular office at the property’s south end Wednesday afternoon, a 10-foot long architect’s overall master plan for the 150-acre property was taped up on a wall.
Tacked to the wall beside it was an aerial photograph of Cypress Gardens, Legoland’s predecessor attraction, showing red, yellow and white flowers in full bloom.
Jones said he hung the vintage photo as a reminder to himself of the property’s heritage and his quest to imbue Legoland Florida with unique visual appeal.
“We want this to be the most beautiful Legoland in the world,” Jones said. “That’s already impacting everything we do. We’re making decisions with that in mind.”
As an example, Jones said he had ordered a change in the design of the parking area to save two trees.
Legoland’s commitment to maintaining flora is apparent elsewhere on the property. Crews will relocate some 660 trees during construction, many of them mature oak trees that must be dug up and replanted the same day to ensure survival. Mature oaks can weigh 65 tons and can have root-balls 14 feet across, said Craig Riebel, Legoland’s construction supervisor.
One such move occurred Wednesday. An oak dangled in the air, its root-ball saddled in ropes held by the 200-foot boom of a crane. Workers were moving the oak a short distance in the south end of the park, the area to be called The Beginning.
Other trees on the property were surrounded by orange webbing and signs that read, “Tree Protection Zone.”
Workers have relocated several trees from an expanse near the center of the property that will become Miniland USA, the heart of the attraction. Miniland will feature replicas of national and local landmarks constructed from millions of Lego bricks.
Jones said landscaping around Miniland is nearly completely, and the cement base will be poured in the next few weeks. He said Legoland employees at other sites are already building the Miniland models, which will be delivered and installed in a few months.
Jones said the first model builders based at Legoland Florida will arrive soon. He said the builders will devote themselves to setting up a shop, in which they will eventually construct models from Lego bricks to be used throughout the park and in marketing efforts.
MANY BUILDINGS STAY, BUT REDONE
Legoland Florida will retain many buildings from Cypress Gardens, though many of them are being thoroughly renovated. Jones said all of the restaurants and restrooms have been gutted, in some cases down to the bare frames. Some buildings, particularly around the former Cypress Gardens radio museum, have been demolished to reduce congestion.
The new owners have removed many of the Cypress Gardens amusement rides, but two major structures remain: the wooden Triple Hurricane roller coaster, to be renamed Coastersaurus, and the Swamp Thing suspended metal roller coaster, to be renamed Flying School.
Jones said the wooden coaster’s five cars have been sent elsewhere to be refurbished.
During the construction, Legoland is reusing 18,000 tons of concrete from sidewalks and foundations of Cypress Gardens. A contractor is using a 15-ton machine to pulverize the concrete, which is being used as a base layer for new sidewalks.
At the less visible level, Jones said crews are replacing outdated pipes and wires and installing a fiber-optic communications network throughout the park.
High wooden walls line the perimeter of the property, and access is tightly restricted. Water access from Lake Eloise makes it difficult to seal the property completely, especially at night, but Jones said Legoland is adding more security guards and installing video cameras to prevent intrusions that could create liability issues.
HIRING IN SPRING
Legoland has about 60 employees working on the property, mostly in administration, landscaping and operations jobs. Legoland expects to employ about 1,000 people, but Jones said most of the hiring won’t take place before late spring.
Jones praised Winter Haven and Polk County officials for quickly approving construction permits.
“The community and county have been absolutely amazing,” Jones said. “I think the county commissioners need commending on how efficient and helpful they’ve been. I say that with my experience in working on other projects in other cities. This has been the best example of how a city has been extremely helpful.”
[ Gary White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7518. Join his discussion of books at www.facebook.com/ledgerlit. ]