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An Inclusive Playground Is Coming to Our Town

By Caprice Benifield-Sanchez | Posted April 4, 2024


A new $1.5 million inclusive playground will have something for everybody — young, old, blind, deaf, wheelchair-bound, autistic, and more. It promises to help foster friendships amongst people of all abilities in Montgomery Township.


A architect’s rendering of a new inclusive playground approved to be built on the grounds of the Montgomery Municipal Complex off Orchard Road.


The playground will be 10,500 square feet, about the size of three tennis courts, with a barrier-free surface that contains two wheelchair-accessible play structures, one serving ages 2 to 5 and one serving ages 5 to 12. It includes musical instruments, three exercise stations, accessible swings, shade structures, and benches. Montgomery Township Committee members unanimously approved supplemental funding to construct it at the municipal center off Orchard Road, during their meeting on Feb. 1.


Rose Sands of Montgomery attended the meeting, accompanied by her daughter Amber, 9. Sands said, “The very first time that Amber said a word, she was five years old, and she was sitting at the top of a slide. The reason why she said the word was because it was an if-then situation. If she said a word, then she was allowed to slide down. It became highly motivating for her to go back up on that slide over and over and over again.” “But I’d like to tell you that this [playground] is going to solve all problems for all children’s disabilities, but every child is different. Every child deserves the opportunity to figure out what that motivation is. “I cannot begin to tell you how many options and trials we approached to see what would get her to talk, but when we found it, we didn’t let it go,” Sands said.


The new playground will include ramps and accessible swings with high backs and harnesses to assist disabled children. All surfaces will be resilient to cushion a fall, and a safety fence will enclose the playground. John Groeger, Montgomery Parks and Recreation director, said the playground is inclusive in the following ways: “We have different pieces for people who have ... different disabilities,”


Groeger said There is a Serenity Spot, which is a fort-like space with games. Children with autism or other sensory processing differences can be especially overwhelmed by noise, movement, or simply need a space to express themselves freely. There is also a Volta Spinner designed for users of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Groeger added, “We also have exercise stations, and that makes it really a multigenerational piece. So that way, the seniors who will be either bringing their [grand] kids or at least just coming by would have pieces that they could use or play on.”


The Somerset County Board of County Commissioners awarded a $350,000 grant to Montgomery to help fund the playground. The Investors Bank awarded $50,000. And, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection is contributing a Local Recreation Improvement Grant for $66,000. The township also allocated $284,000. “Where we are right now at this point is about $750,000. If we’re able to pull in a Green Acres Program grant, it would get us to our $1.5 million number.”


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The Parks & Recreation Committee has yet to hear back from the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which runs Green Acres. The program awards grants to municipalities, counties, and nonprofit organizations for projects including land acquisition, park development, stewardship, and inclusive playgrounds. Groeger told The Montgomery News, “Since we don’t know if [or] how much we will get from that grant, we have not been able to take any additional steps forward at this point.” “Once we hear back from the DEP, ... it will determine if we need to raise funds and, if so, how much to close the gap.”


The playground would be situated at the Montgomery Municipal Center, which includes a branch of the Somerset County Library, administrative offices, and the police department. Just down Orchard Road is Rock Brook School for communication- impaired and multiply disabled children aged 3 to 21. Also, developments in the area include affordable housing. Groeger said the affordable housing complex does not have a playground. “We wanted to make sure there was a close, accessible area for those children to be able to play,”


Groeger said. Groeger added that a $380,000 NJ Department of Transportation (DOT) grant covered the creation of new sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes to make it possible for locals to walk or bike to the municipal center and playground.

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