Giving Back

Livingston Special Needs Playground in Development

Mark Silance, Adaptive Recreation Coordinator and Jennifer Hessberger, Director of SYLS present the proposed Special Needs Playground at a recent HCHY meeting. Credits: Jackie Schatell
Special Needs Playground Design Credits: Ben Shaffer & Associates, Inc.

LIVINGSTON, NJ – The Livingston Senior, Youth and Leisure Services (SYLS) department has issued a grant proposal to the Essex County Recreation Open Space Trust Fund Advisory Board asking for $150,000 to begin construction on a playground for children with special needs at Monmouth Court Community Center.

On August 2, the Essex County Open Space Advisory Board announced that $3 million in grant funding will be made available to assist municipalities and non-profit organizations to acquire open space, develop recreation facilities and preserve historic sites.

Jennifer Hessberger, Director of SYLS, and Mark Silance, Adaptive Recreation Coordinator, seized the opportunity and have proposed a grant for a special needs playground.

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We’ve had these plans in place for a couple years and we were trying to figure out how we were going to fund the whole project,” said Hessberger. “Once Essex County opened up the grant, it provided the perfect opportunity for us.”

The proposal has already been approved by the Livingston Township Council and is currently being reviewed by the Essex County Open Space Board. It is unknown, when LYLS will receive an answer on their proposal.

“It could be two days, It could be two months,” said Hessberger.

Despite the uncertainty, Hessberger felt confident that even if the entire $150,000 proposal is not approved, the project will still receive some level of compensation funding.

“Anything to do with helping the special needs community is very popular right now and much needed, in all communities not just ours, so were hoping that Essex County will agree and see it that way. We’re very hopeful that they will.”

If the $150,000 proposal is approved, it would only cover half the costs necessary to build the special needs playground. Much of the second $150,000 would be raised through fundraising in conjunction with local programs that support special needs children, including the LACD and HCHY.

“We’ve built a good relationship with the special needs community and over the past several years we’ve strived to build that up,” said Hessberger. “With [the special needs community’s] support, fundraising is definitely going to be a good possibility.”  

Hessberger added, “I think it’s important that whatever we do that we include the community so there’s a feeling of involvement and investment with the building of this playground.”

The floor plans for the playground were inspired by a state-of-the-art special needs playground in Montville NJ. Insight into the playground’s design was also provided by parents of special needs children, the Livingston board of education physical therapist, a construction consultant, and Mark Silance, who has a degree in adaptive education.

The playground design features wheel chair accessible ramps, swings that are built to fit the needs of individuals with limited motor skill functions and a shaded area for individuals who are sensitive to heat.

The main element in the playground’s design is a flat and weatherized surface, making all areas in and around the park completely wheelchair accessible. This weatherized surface reportedly carries most of the playground’s high cost.

Hessberger said that although the park is designed to fit the need of special needs children, “There’s nothing in it that will be restrictive to typical children.”

Hessberger commented on the importance of a special needs playground to Livingston, “In Livingston, there are 860 children who are receiving special needs care from the board of education. That’s 860 families that can’t bring their kids to a playground. With this playground, we hope to provide an area that the entire township and all children— special needs and typical, can use.”

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