Seaside Heights is planning to build a new playground on its bayfront where just a few items remain from a previous playground on the site. This time, however, officials hope to receive state grant funding to build what has become known as an “inclusive” playground that allows all children – including those with physical and developmental disabilities – to access the equipment.
Funding for the project, estimated to cost $750,000, would come at least partially from the state Department of Environmental Protection under Jake’s Law, a 2018 measure that incentivizes counties and towns to build inclusive playgrounds for children. The term “Jake’s Law” refers to Jake’s Place, a playground in Cherry Hill, which was created in honor of Jacob Cummings-Nasto, who passed away due to complications of heart surgery at the age of two, and enjoyed spending time at a local park.
In Seaside Heights, the playground is being planned for Sunset Beach, the borough’s main bay beach off Route 35 where there is also located a large parking lot, public dock, swimming area and boat ramp.
“The site is on Barnegat Bay, next to Stewart’s, where there used to be a playground that was removed,” said Jennifer Gorini, the borough’s planning consultant on the project. “There are now swings and two sail structures, both of which will be removed once this is installed.”
Gorini said the playground will be located about 50 feet from the mean high water mark of the bay, keeping it on-grade with the existing boardwalk for easy access. A seating “wall” will be designed to mark the playground off, and a quiet space near picnic tables, likely underneath natural foliage, will be included as part of a requirement under the Jake’s Law program that there be such a space for children with sensory issues.
New public restrooms would also have to be added to the site as part of the requirements under the law, as the nearest restrooms, located at Stewart’s, would not meet the grant requirements.
“The borough is already working on a standalone playground structure that will have two family-use or assisted-use restrooms,” said Gorini. “They will need to be on the paved area because of sewer service, but the Green Acres program will not be able to distribute any funds until that bathroom is in place.”
The playground itself will include many features that can be found in most playgrounds like swing sets and , however they will be designed specifically to be accessible – and fun, of course – for all children, disabled or not. A spin-around attraction would even allow wheelchairs to be loaded into the carrier for a quick ride, and “transfer decks” would likewise allow wheelchair access to swings and slides.
The area also would be cordoned off from the rest of the beach and the private businesses nearby.
“There are no legal specifications for the fence – it can be something like shrubs – and we’re going to propose something that goes with the area, probably something nautical,” Gorini said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection would cover up to 75 percent of the cost of the playground if the grant funding is approved, and can be combined with a $100,000 grant the borough has already received in order to improve the bay beach area. The total amount the borough would expend on the project is forecast to be about $87,500.
Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz said the borough is hopeful the grant funding will be approved over the winter months and the playground can be installed next summer. Under the Jake’s Law funding process, the borough council must pass a resolution of support, which is planned for the governing body’s Jan. 17 meeting.
The idea for an inclusive playground originated from “visioning” meetings held with residents over the last several months, asking for input on long-term plans that could benefit the town.
“We’ve gotten feedback already from residents stating that this is something they want to see,” Gorini said.