Marisa Hieb and her mother, Ellen Parente, are big fans of CSURE Playground in Ventnor — mainly because Hieb’s 2-year-old daughter, Finley, is an even bigger fan of the place.
“You have the Boardwalk, you have the beach and you have the playground right there,” Parente said Sunday.
She watches her granddaughter a few days a week and adds that the three generations of the family are always happy to make this trip over from the mainland — they all live in Somers Point — for a visit to CSURE.
“I take her to the playground and she runs,” Parente added. “But it’s nice to be able to see the beach and the ocean, too.”
Hieb, a kindergarten teacher in Linwood, said she also likes the safety of CSURE Playground, with its soft, spongy surface.
“But (Finley) actually fell a lot today,” added Hieb, who noticed that the foam blocks that make up the playground surface have grown rough and uneven lately.
Marsha Galespie has noticed the same thing.
Galespie, of Ventnor, the founder of CSURE and the organizer who turned her dream into a massive volunteer effort to build the fully accessible playground in 2007, said work is scheduled to start next week on putting in a new “poured-in-place” soft surface to replace the blocks.
Repeated storms have caused the foam to lift — Galespie said flooding after one storm actually had the blocks on the beach side of the playground floating. And when they settled, the blocks of the 8,756-square-foot- playground didn’t all go back down evenly.
Galespie said CSURE has enough money to pay for the $95,400 new surface, thanks in part to a new $25,000 donation from the Bobbi Brodsky Foundation. Its namesake lives in Haverford, Pa., but is a longtime summer regular in nearby Longport and Atlantic City.
“I just knew about the playground, and I was concerned about was there any devastation from (Hurricane) Sandy,” said Brodsky. “So I called (a Ventnor friend), and he put me in touch with Marsha, and said maybe they need some help.”
Brodsky, the mother of two grown “special-needs” daughters was attracted by the mission of CSURE — its initials translate into Community for the Safe Usage of Recreation Environments, and Galespie planned it as a playground that would be accessible to kids with wheelchairs or crutches and those with other physical or mental disabilities. That’s why the mulch or sand-safety surfaces in some playgrounds wouldn’t work in this one.
“I just wanted to help the shore, because I have many friends who live there,” Brodsky said.
Galespie said the smoother poured surface should improve conditions for users in wheelchairs — she pointed out several spots where holes and gaps have developed between blocks.
When she was planning the playground in 2007, she got an estimate of $100,000 to $120,000 for a poured surface — at a time when CSURE was basically out of money. The initial estimate for the foam blocks was $65,000, but a flooring company installed them for $52,000 and made the rest of the bill a donation to the cause, Galespie said Sunday. But she was warned that the blocks would likely have a limited life in a beachfront environment.
And even though CSURE has enough now to cover the cost of the new floor, she expects to get back to raising funds shortly after the job is done. Several adults whose kids were having fun at the playground Sunday asked about plans for future fundraisers.
But Galespie added that she has a more immediate need: When the four- to five-day resurfacing job starts on or around April 15, the contractor — No Fault Sport Group, of Baton Rouge, La. — said CSURE needs to provide security to keep people off the poured floor before it’s finished. Letting anyone on too soon could ruin the work, the company said.
So Galespie is looking for volunteers willing to protect the playground at night during the project. (Contact her through the playground’s website, csure.org, or at 609-335-6390.)
During a visit to the busy playground Sunday, the founder tried to recruit volunteers, including Scottie Van Duyne, of Ventnor, another grandmother there as part of a three-generation trip — she joined her daughter, Emily, and Emily’s son, Hank, 2.
“He doesn’t want to go home,” Van Duyne said, watching Hank play with a new friend.
Earlier in the day, neither did Lucas Antonioli, 2, or his little brother, Matthew, 1, who live with their parents in Souderton, Pa., but visit an uncle in Ventnor as often as possible.
On this trip, their parents also noticed that the playground surface has suffered since they started going.
“Matthew isn’t so sturdy on his feet yet,” said their mom, Rebecca. “So he was walking around today and he kept tripping — and face-planting.”
The soft landing surface helped, she added, but her boy still cried when he landed face-first.
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