All-Children's Playground nearing reality

Thursday, June 26, 2008

by Erica Zarra

of the Montclair Times

After eight years in the making, a universal playground in Montclair is close to fruition.

On June 20, under a bright blue sky, municipal officials, residents, children, and financial donors convened in Edgemont Memorial Park for the kickoff ceremony of an "All-Children’s Playground," which will feature play stations, a playground surface and entrances designed to accommodate people with disabilities and special needs.

Susan Irby, a representative of Montclair’s People With Disabilities Advisory Committee, whose members started the idea of a universal playground nearly a decade ago, called the event "a great day for Montclair."

"It punctuates a major step forward for our community’s commitment to bring full participation in public life for everyone, and it brings it closer to reality," Irby said. "If we think outside the box about access, then we find expanded use and purpose."

Irby noted the universal playground would accommodate not only children with disabilities, but also parents with special needs.

"So much time and effort has been put in by everyone to make this happen," Irby told dozens of supporters in attendance. "And everyone, I can’t thank you enough."

Township Manager Joseph Hartnett noted, "The sense of satisfaction and reward and warm heart from this [project] far exceeds anything else that I have had the privilege of being involved in."

Hartnett praised supporters of the project, including the People With Disabilities Advisory Committee for their longterm commitment to the project.

"As we all know and believe, families that play together stay together," he said.
The Township Council has purchased $140,656 worth of playground equipment from Marturano Recreation Co.

The municipal government also awarded a $282,000 contract to JC Landscape Construction & Management Co. for the playground’s design and construction.

A portion of the funds for such improvements has been appropriated through bond ordinances and additional finances, some of which are from private donors.

The council had committed $200,000 to the project, and the municipality obtained a $50,000 state grant toward it.

The remainder of money was secured through private donations and fundraising initiatives, including those by Parents Who Rock, a locally based organization of mothers and fathers who had performed rock music professionally or as amateurs.

Second Ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager, who served as chairperson of the project’s general fundraising campaign, said she saw a universal playground a perfect fit for Edgemont Memorial Park, which she called, "the jewel of our town."

"I can’t think of a better way to end the four years with such a monumental day as we have here," said Schlager, who will be departing from the council, along with her six colleagues, this coming Tuesday, July 1. "It was a collaborative effort, a very unique effort between the town fundraising and the grassroots fundraising."

Schlager noted that coin drives, bake sales, T-shirt sales and CD sales were integral in raising money. She said such initiatives could not have carried out without the efforts of Parents Who Rock. The councilwoman also noted the work of Hartnett and Sara Gilbertson, an employee in his office, and the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence, of which she is the associate director.

Alma Schneider, the founder of Parents Who Rock, emphasized how pleased she is to be a Montclair resident: "I am very proud to live in a town that not only considers everyone’s needs but have also had the courage and the perseverance to act on that and have the desire to make a change.

"So a big thank you to Township Council and to all the donors, musicians, and everyone else who assisted in making this unique and amazing playground a reality in our great town of Montclair."

The hour-long program featured a choral presentation in American Sign Language performed by Edgemont Montessori School’s 4th grade students, led by their teacher Regina Waller.

The event also featured two music performances by Parents Who Rock members.
Deputy Mayor Joyce Michaelson said she looks forward to visiting the All-Children’s Playground with her grandchildren.

"This has been an outstanding exercise in how a community can work together and partner together to do what we all want," Michaelson said.


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