By Cheryl Conway
Deteriorated conditions has forced the closing of the award winning designed Ralston Playground in Mendham Township, but a fundraising campaign is underway to restore the 16-year old wood structures.
Mendham Twp. resident Adam Dubeck started a go fund me page about two months ago asking residents to contribute; the Mendham Twp. Recreation Commission plans to allocate some money through its trust fund and is partnering with Mendham Twp. Junior Women’s Club to host a series of fundraisers; and funds are being sought through donations and from the township committee’s capital budget.
If all goes according to plan, local kids may be swinging and sliding by spring 2018 when the township’s lone playground is restored with brand new updated equipment. Although many months await for the project plans to be complete, township leaders and volunteers look forward to that day.
“We are excited about the outcome,” says Peter Wright, Mendham Twp. Recreation Director. “It’s getting to the outcome. It’ll be a community effort.”
The Ralston Playground was installed in 2000 by a local family, who created a foundation along with community donations, in memory of their child who died from SIDS, says Wright.
The playground was dedicated on Oct. 5, 2002, “made possible by the generosity of the Christie Family Foundation” of NJ Gov. Chris Christie. Located on one third of an acre, “the playground itself is an award winner,” says Wright, recognized by the NJ Recreational Parks Association for Excellence in Design in 2002, he adds.
The playground is based around the history of Mendham Twp., such as its cider mills, farming from 1770 to the 19th century.
“It was a modern playground at the time that represented history,” says Wright.
The slide looks like a barn, tells the history of the barn; another piece of equipment is a train and shares the train history in town, describes Dubeck.
With equipment made out of wood, over the years it “became the home of insects and termites,” says Wright. “The structures just deteriorated.”
In Aug. 2016, after an inspection by insurance health agents and safety inspectors, township officials were advised to close the playground as “the structural integrity of the pieces of units” were no longer deemed safe, says Wright.
The recreation commission has been discussing the replacement and repair of the playground structures for the past three years, says Wright, but with the “change in leadership” within the department, those talks were stalled. Wright came on board in April 2015 and is making it a priority to “look at our facilities.”
Wrights says, “We are in a fundraising mode for the playground. There’s a need.” The recreation commission has its own trust fund with monies raised through township programs and events.
“We’ve dedicated money in the trust for the new playground,” says Wright. A $3,000 donation has also come in from a construction company who had been using the township’s parking lot that will be allocated toward the new playground, he adds.
The Junior Women’s Club will partner with the recreation commission to have a series of fundraisers to generate money for the new playground, he adds. Wright also intends to ask the township committee for some capital money toward the project.
The plan is to “replace” the old playground, Wright says. Depending on the final design, Wrights estimates a cost of $130,000 to $200,000 to fund the new structures.
“The design will make it interactive for all age levels and physical abilities,” including wheelchairs, walkers and crutches, says Wright. “The design has come so far in the past few years. It’s a very, very exciting site. I’m excited about the project.”
Wright’s hope is to have the playground installed for spring 2018. “We have our job cut out for us,” says Wright, from funds, to staging and design, and installation.
The plan would be for the new playground to “embrace the historical background” to “reflect the same theme” as the current playground based on the history of Mendham Township, says Wright.
Also, materials “go to be green,” he says, so better to move from wood to plastic and steel and recycled materials. The “maintenance will significantly drop.”
Another goal is “that taxes won’t go up,” says Wright “to try to stay flat. Our elected officials are trying to keep the municipal tax-side as low as possible.”
One resident has taken it upon himself to help raise funds on his own.
Dubeck created his go fund me page on Oct. 5. So far, $410 has been raised by seven contributors. His goal is to raise $25,000 toward the new playground.
“The more the better the park could be,” says Dubeck.
A newer resident to the township after living in the borough for about three years, Dubeck would visit the Ralston Playground often with his two year old daughter and six year old son.
“They like the slides, the swings, the rope climbing thing,” says Dubeck, who works as an attorney for wills, estates and trusts in Morristown. “It’s in walking distance to our house,” says Dubeck, who was surprised after showing up there one day in August to find police tape and a sign that said closed until further notice.
“It was older, it was getting a little worn, but I didn’t think it was dangerous,” says Dubeck.
Since the park’s closing, Dubeck has been taking his kids to a small playground further away next to Borough Field in Mendham Borough in the meantime, but misses the convenience of Ralston Playground so close by.
“You have this playground that needs fixing up; it’s just sitting there,” says Dubeck. “My kids like that park; it’s close to my house. We can walk there.”
We “decided to raise money on our own,” explains Debeck. He reached out to “a couple of buddies in town. Thought I’d do something.” He bought a lawn sign to inform residents about his campaign to restore the playground through the go fund me site.
To contribute to Dubeck’s go fund me page go to: https://www.gofundme.com/2sxzxhg?ssid=777048339&pos=1.