Washington Township officials unveiled a playground unlike any other in the municipality at Washington Lake Park last Monday.
Township officials came together with members of the Rotary Club of Washington Township to unveil an ADA-compliant playground. While playgrounds are still closed across the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic, construction on the area was recently completed and Mayor Joann Gattinelli said the township is ready to open it up to residents once the state allows playgrounds to re-open. Gov. Phil Murphy announced playgrounds can re-open in New Jersey on July 2.
“We’re leaving this with the anticipation that (the community) knows this is a brand new playground, it’s ADA compliant and we’re hopeful for the day we can open it up officially,” Gattinelli said.
The playground is the first of its kind in Washington Township, providing access to multiple pieces of equipment and access ramps to allow “residents of all abilities and needs” to play in the same area.
“(The township) had some equipment that was ADA compliant,” Gattinelli said. “What we felt was there was something that had to be done to make it inclusive to all children … We felt it was so necessary.”
Part of Gatinelli’s motivation behind the project were conversations she had with Washington Township Chamber of Commerce president Nicole Lannutti.
“She has a special needs daughter,” Gattinelli said of Lannutti. “When she told me she had to head to the shore to have her child have an experience at a playground because it is ADA compliant, that’s when all of the wheels started to turn.”
Washington Township was able to fund the playground thanks to its partnership with the Rotary. Last year, the Rotary took over organizing the Washington Lake Park Wine Festival, with the intention of donating all of the proceeds to a worthy cause in the township.
“All of the proceeds from the wine festival, because we are a nonprofit, ultimately come back to the township,” said Thomas Kozempel, 2019-2020 president of the Rotary Club of Washington Township.
“The Mayor suggested we consider (the ADA playground),” Kozempel added. “(The wine festival) was one of the biggest fundraisers we ever had.”
In addition to the Wine Festival proceeds, a Rotary grant helped pay for a swing large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, electric scooter or stroller. A sign recognizing the Rotary’s sponsorship of the swing was unveiled as part of last Monday’s ceremony.
The new playground is located near Pavilion A and the park’s ranger station. It is split into two areas, with one area featuring equipment for children ages 2 to 5 and the other with a play area for children aged 5 to 12. The equipment was purchased from Miracle Recreation, an inclusive playground equipment manufacturer. Some of the features include a main playground structure with ramps for wheelchair access as well as a swing set featuring a harness swing.
Gattinelli said the township’s partnership with the Rotary allowed for the playground to be put together quickly, noting it would have taken a longer time to pay for the equipment without the proceeds from the Wine Festival and the Rotary grant money.
“This is something that is absolutely necessary,” Gattinelli said. “In speaking with Rotary and everything they do just for the local community and the donations they’ve given, we were able to come together and partner.”
“We really didn’t know what we were going to get ourselves into at that point,” Gattinelli said about last year’s festival. “We knew it was going to be a nice event. We didn’t know it was going to be as successful as it was.”
The 2020 Wine Festival was postponed from its earlier June date due to COVID-19. The Rotary has rescheduled the event for Saturday, Sept. 26, from noon to 5 p.m. at Washington Lake Park, with a rain date of Sunday, Sept. 27. The Rotary is planning to have this year’s proceeds go toward COVID-19 relief. Kozempel said planning for the event is going well, with more wineries scheduled to attend this year’s event, even with the rescheduled date.
“We checked with the wineries and the bands and everyone was able to accommodate the new date,” Kozempel said.
Washington Township may not be completely done with installing ADA-compliant equipment at its new playground. Gattinelli noted there is still space available to put in more pieces in the future, but for now, wants to emphasize the importance of the new area and how it adds a whole new element to Washington Lake Park.
“We have the largest (municipal) park in the state,” Gattinelli said.
“We need to be compliant in what we do, and that’s what we’ve done.”