Tantum Park is undergoing some inclusive upgrades—and just in time for summer.
Robbinsville officials announced last month that the park’s playground is getting an accessible makeover, the culmination of three years’ worth of research.
“We believe all people are created equal, and everyone’s voice adds value to the community,” said township recreational director Kevin Holy. “We want to make something where everybody can be involved at the same time, and where everyone can make lifelong memories together.”
The 6,000-sq.-ft. playground will feature safety surfacing and a wide range of fully accessible play equipment for kids ages 5 and up.
The rubber surfacing ensures that the entirety of the playground is accessible for everyone—whether they’re moving on foot, in a wheelchair, on crutches or ith a walker.
“If you look at typical playgrounds, a number of them have wooden beams surrounding the entire space,” Holt said. “You’d have to step up over the beam, which makes them difficult to enter. So now, you can roll right in without any trip hazards or steps.”
The playground will also feature swings with full back support, a multi-user, wheelchair accessible piece of equipment called the Sway Fun, musical play equipment, sensory panels and spinning and climbing activities.
The playground, designed by General Recreation of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, will also have a number of shade areas, as well as improved walkways, accessible bathrooms and a picnic pavilion.
Those are features that can be tough to find at older playgrounds, Holt said.
“With inclusive playgrounds, children of all abilities can play together at the same time,” he said.
The township started considering an inclusive playground in 2018.
“We realized that the playground infrastructure had a life cycle and was nearing the end,” Holt said. “When we started looking into replacing it, we said, ‘What’s the best way to upgrade this playground?’ We started looking into what’s trending, what’s popular, what’s the best fit. We found that inclusive playgrounds were the way to go.”
Early on in the process, officials met with Mercer County experts and organizations, like Norman Smith from Project Freedom, Ability Tree and the Progress Center for Independent Living. They helped provide input on early renderings and offered their thoughts on design ideas from a firsthand perspective.
Those meetings were followed by a visit with Jake’s Place, an inclusive playground in Cherry Hill—that experience offered a lot of inspiration for what the Tantum Park space should offer.
“We were just in love with the accessibility factor [at Jake’s Place],” Holt said. “We know that we have a number of families within and surrounding Robbinsville that this would be a huge benefit to.”
Robbinsville officials also met with local families. Holt recalls two parents saying they travel to South Carolina just to visit a specific accessible playground.
“They said, ‘It’s one of the only times I get to see my son smile,’” Holt said. “That broke my heart. I thought, ‘Why can’t we have that in New Jersey? Let’s make that happen here.’”
The playground is expected to be completed in June.
And it won’t be the last one in Robbinsville. Holt said township officials are aiming to make similar upgrades to Community Park once the Tantum project is finished. The Miry Run property could also see accessibility improvements once that gets started.
“We want to do some studies,” Holt said. “Experts say an accessible playground should be within 10 minutes of every area in town. We want to make sure that’s where things are at, starting with updating our existing playgrounds and then possibly looking at Miry Run and other areas.”
And Holt is looking forward to it, starting with Tantum Park and hopefully finishing up with more spaces in the future.
“It’s just the right thing to do at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s going to bring a lot of value to the community and to those who haven’t ever been able to go to a playground in Robbinsville or New Jersey and play. We’re thrilled. We’re excited that we get to do this and provide this service to the community.”