Whenever Sarah and Rob Mason took their 11-year-old daughter, Siara, to Central Park on Eggert Crossing Road, they knew parts of the trip might be challenging.
Siara, who just completed fifth grade at Lawrence Intermediate School, has spinal muscular atrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy.
Sarah said Siara could only play on certain parts of the playground equipment, like the infant swings. Because of their smaller size, though, it became a challenge to pull her out of the swings.
“She had [inclusionary] swings at school, but there was nothing to help in the public facilities,” Sarah said.
Until last month, that is. Siara cut the ribbon before the official opening of a new inclusionary playground at the park July 11, 2017. The ribbon cutting was attended by local officials, town residents and, of course, children waiting expectantly for the chance to play.
“Seeing the excitement in the eyes of all the children this week during the ribbon cutting ceremony was wonderful,” said Nancy Bergen, superintendent of recreation. “I hope everyone visits this amazing playground, because everyone can now play together.”
The playground came to light because of the vision of town officials, residents who saw a need for an inclusionary site and funding from the township, from Mercer County and a $100,000 contribution from The Lawrenceville School.
“What I am truly excited about is that all children will be able to visit the playground, and there will be equipment to play on that meets all needs,” said Lawrence Township Mayor David Maffei. “Family members will be able to join in all activities at this playground.”
The universally accessible playground, designed by Bergen, former municipal manager Richard Krawczun, municipal engineer Jim Parvesse and Greg Whitehead, the director of public works, includes a ship-like play structure, connections with existing park pathways, and accessibility for walkers and wheelchairs.
The playground is bright and appealing with blue, red and yellow equipment on top of a soft and springy surface. There are swings and slides for all ages and abilities, as well as an inclusive structure simulating the USS Chesapeake.
Commanded by Capt. James Lawrence, the U.S.S. Chesapeake was involved in a running battle with the English ship H.M.S. Shannon outside Boston Harbor during the War of 1812. With a wound that would eventually prove fatal, Capt. Lawrence implored his crew to carry on, saying “Don’t give up the ship” as he was carried below deck for treatment. That quote is painted onto a portion of the playground.
The only challenge to construct the playground was this year’s rainy and cold spring weather. Built by Whirl Construction after a completive and public bidding process, the playground financing included a $119,261 grant from Mercer County under Mercer at Play 2, a program that encourages municipalities to provide active recreation areas.
Michael Boonin, deputy director of communciations for Mercer County, says the playground is the first project constructed under Mercer at Play 2. He hopes it will provide an opportunity for children with and without disabilities to play together.
Staff and students at The Lawrenceville School were also eager to be part of a project focused on making a safe play space for all children, said Headmaster Steve Murray. Murray also called the project “much needed,” adding “We appreciate the amount of thoughtful initiative on the part of town officials, and it is simply a privilege to help make it happen.”
The Lawrenceville School’s involvement in assisting with funding for the playground was yet another opportunity for the school to partner with the township to benefit local youth. In 2016, the school topped $1.3 million in donations to the Lawrence Township Education Foundation (since the organization’s 1992 inception) and also contributed $10,000 to the Lawrence Township Community Foundation and $5,000 to Lawrenceville Main Street.
Lawrence township manager Kevin Nerwinski called the opening of the playground an important part of the community, and the culmination of a lot of hard work.
“I know that this project was a very important one to my predecessor, Richard Krawzcun, and that the finished product is everything that he hoped it would be,” he said. “While attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the sight of seeing all of the children enthusiastically exploring and playing within it left me with the feeling that, yes, today was a good day.”
Bergen, Whitehead, and Parvesse all expressed their satisfaction with the playground, noting it will be maintained by township employees and is situated adjacent to handicap parking and handicap accessible restrooms.
Rob Mason, a Lawrence native and director of engineering for a pharmaceutical company, and Sarah Mason, a stay-at-home caregiver for Siara, appreciate what the playground provides for their daughter and her peers.
“The district has been very accommodating for our daughter. If they didn’t have a solution, they came up with one,” Sarah said. “This project was talked about for many years and was pushed through by someone who saw my husband struggling with Siara on a class trip. Lawrence Township has been great with that and even though something wasn’t here when my daughter started, the township is very aware and willing and open to having all things inclusive in the township. A lot of people here have made this happen.”