Mt. Laurel Township announces start of plan for recreation upgrades and open space purchases

Improvements include playground upgrades, lighting improvements and potential open space purchases.

Mt. Laurel Township is embarking on a 10-year plan to address what officials describe as the recreation needs of more than 3,000 children and the future of the township’s open space preservation.

Officials detailed the plan at recent press conference where Mayor Rich Van Noord and Deputy Mayor Dennis Riley outlined Mt. Laurel Township Council’s goal for recreation and open space.

Improvements in the plan include already announced upgrades to Laurel Acres Park, where the township is working to improve two playgrounds.

Officials have said those improvements increase the safety of the equipment and make the park more accessible to children or families with disabilities.

The existing wood mulch at the playground sites will also be replaced with a rubber-flooring material to make the area safer.

In addition to the playground work, the township is set to install a new 50-person pavillion to complement the existing pavilion at Laurel Acres Park.

Officials have said there has been a growing need for another pavilion at the park in recent years, as often the current pavillion must be booked a year in advance to accommodate the large number of events such as birthday parties or work functions.

Laurel Acres Park is also set to see new LED lighting upgrades, in addition to lighting upgrades at Spencer Field and Trotter Fields.

Officials also plan to replace the existing turf field at Memorial Park with a newer turf installation and install a second turf field for the park.

Officials say the township is also planning for work at the township’s Virginia Lane, Springville and Cornwallis “tot lots.”

“The council feels strongly that we support our children in their athletic endeavors, but also feels strongly that we need to make sure the character of Mt. Laurel is preserved,” Riley said.

Officials said the planning board has already approved plans for the recreation upgrades, and the township has already received bids on most of the projects.

Along with the recreation upgrades, officials also have plans to acquire more open space through the Open Space, Recreation and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

Van Noord said the township has set aside about $8 million to purchase more open space lands and to payoff existing bond debts for assets the township had already acquired in the past.

These upgrades and purchases come after the November election where residents approved a change in the fund.

Although residents were not asked to increase open space taxes, the township did present voters with a referendum that would change how the township is able to spend open space monies it already collects.

Previously, due to the narrowly written nature of the township’s past open space referendums in 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2007, the township could only put open space funds toward the acquisition of new properties.

If the township desired to make upgrades or continue with ongoing maintenance for those properties once purchased, it was forced to find money in its annual budget or through grants.

“Not only have we planned for a decade in the future, we haven’t raised taxes one penny on the residents of Mt. Laurel and addressed past debt,” Van Noord said.

Officials said the township is already engaged in discussions that could lead to it purchasing more open space, but officials could not reveal details of the plans since negotiations are still ongoing.