Middle Township has received a $268,182 grant to be used primarily to create an ADA-accessible playground for the township's children with disabilities.

Mayor Dan Lockwood said installing the playground structure in the township has been in the works since 2011, but the project was at a standstill because of a lack of funding. A grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs' Community Development Block Grant Program will bring it to fruition. There will be "no out of pocket expense" to the township to complete this project, Lockwood said.

The next step is finding an ideal location for the playground and creating a project plan and timeline. Originally, the plan was to put the playground in the Clarence Davies Sports Complex in Goshen, but because the township is in the process of creating an in-depth Open Space and Recreation study aimed at finding how best to use and improve its open spaces and recreation facilities, officials are waiting for its recommendation before committing to a certain location for the playground, Lockwood said. The Open Space and Recreation study is projected to be completed sometime in April.

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The remainder of the $268,182 grant will be used to add a safe surface underneath the playground, additional lighting, sidewalks and picnic tables nearby, as well as to install power-operated doors at the entrance of City Hall, an access ramp in the county courtroom and ADA-compliant upgrades to the Clarence Davies Sports Complex's restrooms and at the Middle Township Zoning Office.

Deputy Mayor Tim Donohue, who is in charge of the township's recreation, said the ADA-accessible playground will be ready for play sometime this summer, "by the time the weather is warm," he said.

Daryl DiTroia, a resident of the Seaville section of Upper Township and the founder of the Upper Township Challenger's soccer program, (which is now expanded to include bowling and baseball,) said installing ADA-compliant playground equipment in Middle Township is great news for the entire county, not just for Middle Township, and is a small step in the right direction.

"It's so nice to hear Middle Township took the proactive approach in helping these kids get what they need," DiTroia said. "(Individuals with disabilities) are an incredibly underserved segment of our communities. These children just need a little bit of support and funding to help them reach their full potential."

DiTroia, whose son has been diagnosed with functional autism, said he knows of many parents who would be willing to travel from different areas of the county to Middle Township to take their children to its playground. However, he wishes every county municipality had an ADA-accessible playground.

"We need to reach out to our political leaders. They need to spearhead (projects to benefit individuals with disabilities). They need to help us to help our children," DiTroia said. "Build it, and they will come."

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