The state funds awarded last month to the Grove City Parks and Recreation Department will serve as more than just seed money for planned improvements to the Gantz Park playground.

It will cover most of the cost of a project that will enhance Gantz Park's nature theme and make the playground accessible for all youngsters.

The city will receive $300,000 from the state's $2.62-billion capital budget, which funds improvements to public services and facilities across the state, including schools, roads and bridges, waterways and parks.

"This capital budget invests in projects that will increase the quality of life and boost economic development throughout central Ohio, made possible by responsible budgeting year after year," said state Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard.) "These investments allow our state to focus resources on funding for opioid, mental health and addiction services, crucial infrastructure and local economic development projects."

Grove City will provide 25 percent matching funds for the project, said Kim Conrad, the city's parks and recreation director.

"Gantz Park is such an important component in our park system," Conrad said. "It's been about 20 years since we've made any substantial improvements to the playground there, so this is a project that we're really looking forward to do.

"It's a nice playground, and there's no safety concerns with the equipment there, but it's time for a facelift," she said.

Elements that will be added include a number of nature-themed components fitting in with Gantz Park's role as the city's "nature park," she said.

The additions could include faux logs and rock-climbing walls, Conrad said.

A rubberized surface will replace the mulch at the playground while ramps and other features will be added to make the equipment accessible to children with disabilities, she said.

"It will be a playground that all of our children will be able to share and enjoy," Conrad said.

The city had sought $425,000 in state money, and although the grant it received is smaller, it won't affect the quality of the improvements, she said.

"It's not going to keep us from being able to do anything we wanted to do," Conrad said. "It might mean a reduction on quantity -- instead of putting in six new swings, maybe we'll just put in four, for example."

The city will be sending out a request for proposals to playground companies in May, she said.

"We'll be asking them to send us an overview of what they could provide to us given the budget and the nature theme we're looking for," Conrad said.

Once a company is selected, the city will negotiate a contract agreement with the firm before the design process begins, she said. The improvement project itself won't get started until 2019, Conrad said.

Gantz Park's location at an old farm site led to the focus on nature at the park, she said.

"It has so many unique features with the wooded area there that we've put a focus on nature play," Conrad said. "It's a place where kids can go into the woods, climb over trees that have fallen over and just explore the environment and connect with nature."

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