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Walnut new playground photo 2

It's a thumbs up for the new playground structure at Walnut Street Elementary School, which is already being put to good use.

Quick work leads to fast play

Nov. 16, 2023-- The playground at Walnut Street Elementary School sat damaged and unusable in early 2023. One of the school and community's-- the neighborhood surrounding the school is densely-populated, and includes several apartment complexes-- most oft-used resources was no longer an option for kids seeking to play.

It was around this time that the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs released its Local Recreation Improvement Grant, or LRIG. The district applied on behalf of Walnut Street, and in spring discovered it had been awarded a $71,000 grant to support the Walnut Street Playground Replacement Project. And, thanks to keen oversight from Facilities Manager Sam Pepe and the work of partners at MRC Recreation and GameTime, the project is now complete.

Walnut new playground photo 1

The view from up top induces nothing but smiles.

The district pooled other resources to fund the project, but the brunt of it came from the LRIG. And many stand to benefit as a result of the state grant.

"We have so many people to thank for this new playground, including our district stakeholders, the LRIG, our PTO, Mr. Pepe and our Facilities Department, and so many more," said Walnut Street Principal Richard DeMarco. "This playground is just another example of our school district and greater community coming together to do wonderful things for our students."

The surrounding community is, as noted, densely populated, and Walnut Street boasts one of the highest enrollments among district elementary schools. More than half of the school's students, about 55 percent, qualify for free and/or reduced-price meals, the second-highest rate among TRRS buildings. "The playground," the district's application for funding stated, "is one of the few no-cost resources to which local families have access. When the school’s playground structure became irreparably damaged and was forced to be removed, it left the school and community without one of its most valuable public assets."

No longer. Today, students joyously traverse the new structure, which sits adjacent to the school's athletic fields and which is an outlet for families in the evening and on weekends, as siblings and friends compete in various athletic leagues hosted on those fields.

"We pride ourselves in being a community center for families in and around Walnut Street Elementary," said DeMarco. "On most nights, you can see our playground and turf field being enjoyed by so many members of our town."

It looked like an uphill climb when the damaged playground sat unused at the school less than 10 months ago, but thanks to the LRIG and the NJ Department of Community Affairs, a good uphill climb is exactly what students are enjoying today.

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