Mayor Anthony Fanucci provided an update recently on the status of the city’s Jake’s Park project, which will be located at the Romano Park Sports Complex. The all-inclusive special needs park, modeled after the nationally recognized Jake’s Place in Cherry Hill, has been in the planning stages since early 2021.
The final design includes eight distinct areas, seven of which feature various types of inclusive playground equipment and a sensory garden for children and adults on the autism spectrum. Most of these areas are covered by permanent canopies to protect from the elements. The eighth is an aquatic splash play area. Along with this, all-inclusive exercise circuit stations will be installed around the existing Ernie D. Marcacci running and walking track.
The design also includes picnic tables, park benches, restroom facilities, and parking upgrades.
City officials believe the park will be a shining star where children and adults, with disabilities and without disabilities, can all join together, no matter their physical, cognitive, social, or emotional development.
“We are so excited with the final concept,” Mayor Fanucci said. “A lot of careful thought has gone into the design, and it will be the only park of its kind in the area. We believe it will be a destination point for Vineland residents, as well as visitors from throughout the county and beyond.”
“This project is very special to me,” the Mayor continued. “I know first-hand how important it is that the desires of all of our children are met, and that they are all able to enjoy what life has to offer. This design ensures everyone will be able to enjoy this wonderful, inclusive park as a no judgement zone where all can have fun together, where children and adults can play with their peers, family, friends, and neighbors without experiencing physical or social barriers to inclusion.
“Establishing the city’s first inclusive park is a meaningful step forward as part of our ongoing efforts to bring play and activities to all,” Fanucci added. “We want to do all we can to ensure all children and adults enjoy an equal quality of life in Vineland, and with recreation being an integral part of one’s well-being, this park is a huge addition.”
Current plans are for the city to seek bid proposals in the late summer and to award contracts in the late fall with construction to be completed in the late spring of 2024. “As we get closer to construction, we will be soliciting additional citizen engagement in the design and seeking volunteers who may want to be part of the construction process. We are already looking forward to the groundbreaking and to a ribbon-cutting in time for the start of summer next year,” the Mayor concluded.
The park was designed by Cape May engineering firm Van Note-Harvey Associates. Jake’s Place playgrounds are named in honor of Jacob Myles Cummings-Nasto (buildjakesplace.org/ourinspiration) who died at two years old from a rare heart condition that prevented him from using typical playgrounds.
The city has already obtained a Green Acres grant in the amount of $1,200,000, and has budgeted matching funds for the project.
In order to offset increases in construction costs due to COVID and the overall scope of the project, the city is filling an application for additional Green Acres funding. City officials say this will not impact the timing of the project.