Ocean County is requesting grant funding from the state Green Acres Program to replace the current playground at Enos County Park in Lacey Township with one designed to provide activity for all children of all abilities.
“Ocean County is applying for the funds under the state’s Jake’s Law funding program,” said Ocean County Commissioner Virginia E. Haines, who serves as chairwoman of the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation. “Jake’s Law, which passed in 2018, encourages counties to build inclusive playgrounds that exceed the standards outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act and result in accommodating people with disabilities to the greatest degree possible.”
Jake’s Law allows counties to apply for 75 percent matching grants and awards are anticipated between $750,000 and $1 million.
“Enos County Park is a regional park and can be used by everyone,” said Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners Joseph H. Vicari. “An all-inclusive playground provides a safe and secure atmosphere for all children including children with disabilities and also for their parents and grandparents.
“It is beneficial for everyone,” he said.
The proposed changes to the playground would include installing new equipment that could be used by children who rely on wheelchairs, need help with mobility or have other disabilities that may hinder them from participating on standard playground equipment.
“This will provide children that have physical and cognitive challenges a place to enjoy recreational outdoor activities, with their friends and families,” Haines said.
Jake’s Law refers to Jake’s Place, a playground in Cherry Hill, created in honor of Jacob Cummings-Nasto, who died from complications of heart surgery at the age of 2 ½. He was born with hypoplastic heart syndrome and the park was a preferred place for physical therapy.
Ocean County Commissioner Gary Quinn said the playground will serve a tremendous need in the County.
“Enos County Park is a hidden gem in the County park system,” he said. “This is something that will be a huge success. It will mean a lot to our residents.”
An inclusive playground welcomes children and families of all abilities to learn, play and grow together, said Mary Jane Bavais, Assistant Director of the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation, in outlining the proposal during a recent public hearing.
“A well-designed, inclusive playground enables children of all abilities to develop physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally,” she said.
Ocean County is seeking grant funds in the amount of $771,750 and the County’s match would be $257,250. The grant application has received the support of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners, Lacey Township, the Ocean County Department of Human Services and the Ocean County Shade Tree Commission.
The County anticipates hearing from the state by July on whether the grant application was approved. A new playground could be constructed within a year.
“We want to make certain all the children in Ocean County can enjoy our parks and our playgrounds,” Haines said. “And while all of our playgrounds meet ADA standards, this grant will help us take this farther, allowing accessibility for everyone.”