By Megan Roche
It’s taken two years of fundraising but the folks who stepped up to help rebuild the Gardner Field playground are finally about to see their dreams come true. The new playground is expected to be built Sept. 23, by an all-volunteer effort.
What started as a plea from the mayor in 2016, the project was almost scrapped due to low volunteer interest in rebuilding the playground.
Originally constructed in 1996, the Gardner Field playground was desperately in need of rehab efforts. The play space had become unsafe, nails sticking out, old rotted wood, and after seeing multiple rain showers and floods, the mayor stepped up and put out his volunteer call.
The hopes of rebuilding the playground were handed off to the recreation committee. Albeit slow meetings with one or two members of the public coming out, when the design meeting came, streams of people visited town hall to see renderings of the new playground.
During the reveal of the design, the meeting proved to bring a successful volunteer base to the forefront. As the renderings of the playground were shown to the public, so were potential materials that would be used for flooring.
The new playground will house a massive climbing structure complete with a slide. There will also be an area for younger children to play. The new playground will include swings and adaptive play equipment for handicapped children as well.
The team kicked off fundraising at the township’s annual Fourth of July Fireworks, selling ice cream, popcorn and glow sticks. From there began the ultimate test of coming up with fundraisers that were different. In total, the fundraisers brought in more than $210,000 dollars.
During their committee meetings, led by Don Casse, volunteers presented ideas for fundraisers. After presenting the ideas, many fundraisers were given the green light. The volunteers planned individual events and asked for help within the committee to see the ideas come to life.
A unique fundraiser that helped to replace the original playground consisted of engraved pavers that provided the walkway to the new playground. The fundraiser was a massive success in 1996 that the new crop of volunteers decided to bring it back again.
As bricks were on sale, the question of what would happen to the original bricks arose many times. The old bricks from the donations in 1996 were excavated from the ground and the plea for returning of bricks was answered when interested residents were able to get their brick back for sentimental reasons. Any brick that wasn’t claimed will be repurposed at the Denville Museum.
“It was a really successful fundraiser when the original playground was built and we, as a committee, felt it was important to offer the bricks again,” said Vikki Faitoute, a co-chair of the brick sales committee. “We knew the walkway was going to have to come up so selling the bricks was a very easy fundraiser to have.”
In total, the brick team sold more than 750 bricks. When the bricks are laid at the playground, they will help form a walkway throughout the new space.
Fundraisers throughout the two years were both big and small. Laura Wagner, who chaired the Food Truck Festival, noted how much effort it took to run such a large event.
“I think what makes our food truck festival such a success is the community,” she said. “Any food truck festival can be fun and you get to sample a bunch of different foods, but I don’t think it would have been as successful as it was without the community of Denville really coming together like it did to support it.”
Wagner and another mom shared the same idea and worked on the original food truck fundraiser together. The idea of a food truck is still a novelty in the township and Wagner tries to find a wide variety each time the event is held.
During last year’s event, the festival team added many inflatables for the kids to play on, arts and crafts, laser tag and more to keep the kids busy. An addition of a beer tent also didn’t hurt.
With the major success of the food truck festival, it comes as no surprise to township residents that Wagner is bringing back the food truck festival to help raise the funds for a new project that will help bring necessary upgrades to the turf field at Veteran’s Memorial Field.
What seemed to be a small and easy fundraiser brought in big amounts of money. Resident Eileen Whitmore came up with the idea to have spare change jars located throughout shops located in the township. Whitmore took on the idea herself.
Whitmore cleaned out the jars every month and made deposits to the bank all on her own. The change jars throughout the township raised an estimated $6,000 towards the rebuilding efforts alone.
When Danielle Kish had the idea for a family friendly 5K run, she took the event even further. The Zombie Fun Run gave kids and runners of all ages a chance to enjoy Denville during the October months. Kids got to dress in their Halloween costumes, special effects makeup was used and zombies chased after the race participants all through the street.
Think the cold winter months stopped the fundraising? The brave showed themselves when Denville hosted its own version of the Polar Plunge at Cook’s Pond. With water temperatures below 40 degrees, participants in the plunge took to the icy waters all to benefit the kids who will soon play on the new equipment at Gardner Field.
Tim Behrens, who helped to plan the last two very successful Polar Plunge events in the township, was always happy to see how many people really enjoyed coming to a different type of fundraiser.
“It was a huge success,” said Behrens. “Our committee provided us a lot of volunteers. We had a smaller turnout for plungers, but many came to watch those who are brave enough to actually participate. I think overall it went great.”
The Polar Plunge alone helped to raise more than $8,000 toward the purchase of the new play equipment.
When early spring arrived, so did the Harlem Wizards. The famous basketball team came to play against beloved township leaders, police officers and volunteers all to help raise even more for the new playground. The night gave families a chance to get out of the house and attend a fun basketball game for charity.
Through fundraising and getting the word out, money poured in. The team set up booths at every vendor event imaginable, getting the public involved as much as they could to gain every penny needed towards the rebuild effort.
While September is back to school time, kids and adults alike will notice that the play area at Gardner Field is prepped and ready for the build weekend. While that playground is closed, the volunteer team put together a comprehensive list of all the other local playgrounds that can be used while the new playground is under construction.
As volunteers come together to build, the atmosphere at Gardner Field will be electric; neighbors helping neighbors while food and water donations pour in from local stores. The build helps to provide a weekend where new friendships are made all while bettering the town as a whole.
Brett Haddaway and his team at Designed 4 Fun will be on site during the build to offer their advice and expertise on the playground. Haddaway helped design the original playground in 1996.
While the equipment and bricks may have been ordered, the team still needs volunteers for the big build weekend. Anyone who is 18 or older can volunteer on the site. Volunteers need no experience and can do many jobs throughout the day.
“It’s going to be a lot of work that needs to be done in one weekend,” said Faitoute. “We’re reaching out to every group in town to help volunteer. Come and give us two hours or spend the whole day.”
Those who are interested in volunteering are asked to contact Margaret Kurdyla, the mayor’s secretary, at (973) 625-8300 ext. 223.
Mayor Tom Andes is looking forward to the big build weekend, knowing that volunteering is what Denville does best.
“Build weekends are some of the best weekends in Denville,” Andes said.
After the new area is built, cosmetic upgrades will be made with some fresh paint and new brick pavers being added to form a walkway throughout the space. The team is hopeful to have a ribbon cutting ceremony in early October to commemorate the new play area and all the volunteers’ hard work.