SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - At the Borough Council meeting Tuesday night,  Councilwoman Christine Faustini announced plans to build an inclusive playground in Willow Park funded by the South Plainfield Library.  Asking for the support of her fellow council members, Faustini described the project details.  The inclusive playground is set to be installed behind the Library in Willow Park, costing approximately $150,000.  The entire project should be completed sometime this summer.

“This evening, I have the supreme honor and pleasure of announcing another project,” said Faustini. “It is one that I believe will certainly move our town forward.  The goal to complete this project was put forth in Mayor Anesh’s borough address and most recently in a letter to residents.  Last year, after the addition of the adaptive swings and with interest from our recreation commission, I started exploring the appropriate addition of inclusive playground equipment to South Plainfield Parks.”

After visiting existing inclusive playgrounds in nearby towns with South Plainfield Borough's Officials, Faustini was advised by Director of Recreation Kevin Hughes as to the size of the space needed to accommodate the playground. After Faustini's research, she approached Darlene Cullen, then President of South Plainfield Library Board, about building the structure in Willow Park.

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“When we started the Library expansion a few years ago, it was always Library Director Linda Hansen’s vision for the Library to be more than just a Library, but a center for all residents,” said former Library Board President Darlene Cullen. “The expansion has now spilled outdoors, and will truly allow the needs of all residents to be met.”

“On Tuesday February 13th, just in time for Valentine’s Day, I might add, the South Plainfield Library Board voted unanimously to cover the cost of an inclusive playground set to be installed just behind where we sit this evening at Willow Park,” continued Faustini.  “It is my belief and I hope that everyone this evening will share in it, that every child, with any given level of ability, needs, and talents, along with their caregivers should have the simple joy of playing and laughing with others.”

Inclusive playgrounds are designed to provide a safe place where children of all abilities can play together.  Providing a sensory rich environment, the playground will be developmentally appropriate for all children as it removes the barriers of physical and social disabilities. 

“I’m very excited that this was able to come together so quickly,” said Mayor’s Representative  to the Library Board Ray Rusnak.  “We thought it would be a great idea to expand on the park with a playground that will be all inclusive for all children.  This way parents would be able to park, go into the library, go to the playground and it would just be an easy day for them.”

"I look forward to the installation of inclusive equipment at Willow Park, so children of all abilities are able to socialize, play and learn together," said Hansen. "I would like to thank all the board members and employees past and present for their continual support of the library. We have truly become a community center for all."

“The South Plainfield Public Library has been providing programs for the special needs population and informational sessions for their parents,”  said Library President Cheryl Nagel-Smiley.  “Since Willow Park is located directly behind the library many of our patrons use the park.  Providing additional equipment for this population of children seemed like a natural extension of our services. We hope it will provide many hours of enjoyment, fun and relaxation for all families.” 

The Willow Park inclusive playground will include slides, multi-sensory boards, and wheelchair accessible routes with transfer points.  The purpose of an inclusive playground is to create a cohesive community play structure where opportunities for play are integrated throughout, not just a special needs area off to the side. The objective is to include everyone and bring children of all abilities together.

“There will be a special ground base, which will encompass an area approximately 50 feet by 50 feet,”  added Rusnak.  “If you are looking at Willow Park from the library this will be to the left of the swings.”

“Inclusive playgrounds are for all children,” said Faustini.  “They are designed to accommodate both non-typically and typically developing children.  Most families have all types of children.  This playground is not for the one child, but his or her entire family.  The addition of this centrally located playground is a natural extension to all of the new specials needs programs at the library and will give families and friends the opportunity to partake in play side by side.” 

Willow Park, which is located behind the Library and Municipal Complex, recently expanded to include six additional swings and a tire swing.  A new adaptive swing was added in August 2017 after eight-year-old Grace Anne Farrell brought the request to Faustini expressing the need for disabled children to have a place to play in South Plainfield.

“You look at the transformation that the library building has undergone in the past ten years or so, and then you realize what’s happened with Willow Park,” said Mayor Matthew Anesh.  “Most people probably didn’t even realize that Willow Park was a park in the borough and for a long time, it really wasn’t.  We looked to expand that park a couple of years ago and it’s really been a huge transformation for the area.  I think it is great for inclusive equipment, but I also think it’s great for patrons at the library with young kids.”

South Plainfield, as a community, has been working to bring all children and families together in efforts to support those of all abilities.  On September 18, 2017, South Plainfield Elks Lodge #2298 presented the Borough of South Plainfield with a check for $1,749.  The donation purchased three more adaptive swings for children with disabilities that were installed in Cotton Street Park, Shadyside Park and Ponytail Park. 

“The library had to get approval from the state librarian to make sure the inclusive playground was something they could actually purchase,”  said Faustini.  “My role in this as council is to work through the Recreation Department with the library to get the appropriate equipment and find the appropriate location where this could fit.” 

“The Capitol Committee, which is myself, Cheryl Nagel-Smiley and Melissa Katsingris, discussed the possibility of an inclusive playground in Willow Park,”  added Rusnak.  “We brought it forward to the Library Board and everyone was very receptive and enthusiastic.  We brought it forward last Tuesday and now it’s been brought to the Council.  Nobody’s dragging their feet here.” 

While the Library is purchasing the equipment outright and building the inclusive playground, there will be additional ongoing projects needed to fully complete the park. 

“Once this park is complete, fences are going to have to be extended and the bumper guards will have to be extended,”  said Rusnak.  “They’re also looking to put up shade structures, which will be similar to what they have at the Community Pool, so there’s plenty of room if someone wants to donate.”

“I feel like thank you is not a big enough word, but it is all I can say,” Faustini said.  “Thank you to the entire Library Board both for having such vision for a progressive community and for your extremely generous sponsorship.  Special thanks to Library Board President Cheryl Nagel-Smiley, former President Darlene Cullen, Mayor’s Rep Ray Rusnak, and Director Linda Hansen for reaching out to myself and our Recreation Department to coordinate and move the approval through so quickly.”

“I’m really happy that the Board of Trustees approved the inclusive playground,” said former Library President Darlene Cullen. “We had a five year plan and we talked about it at the end of last year for the improvement of Willow Park, I would like to thank Cheryl and Ray for taking the lead on this project.  Ray has been really instrumental in being the chair of the capital committee, combined with his financial expertise.  It’s going to be a great addition to South Plainfield and I just want to thank all involved.”

Anybody who wants to help the Library offset costs can contact Friends of the Library.  Those looking to donate toward the fencing and addition projects can contact the Borough of South Plainfield.

“My thanks to the entire Library Board and  Linda Hansen,the Director of the Library,”  concluded Anesh.  “And thank you former President Cullen for all that you’ve done over the years.  You have been very instrumental in the transformation of that building and helping with that board.”

“Each child should experience the wind blowing through their hair on a trip down the slide or on a swing,” said Faustini.  “Play is an important part of every child’s brain development.  It helps with social and motor skills, problem solving, and language development. It helps children be self-confident and healthier.”