21 August 2020 // JRA Culture

Socratic Outdoor Learning Center | JRA and The Morey Family Collaborate on Community Park

Socratic Method: The use of questions, as employed by Socrates, to develop a latent idea, as in the mind of a pupil, or to elicit admissions, as from an opponent, tending to establish a proposition.

The JRA Family has been friends with the Morey Family for over three decades and has enjoyed working on several projects at Morey’s Piers, the family’s Wildwood, New Jersey amusement park. Most recently, however, we worked with the Moreys on something that, while outside our “wheelhouse”, aligns with our motto of “designing dreams and delivering WOW moments.” The Socratic Outdoor Learning Center of Wildwood (SOLCOW) will deliver “WOW” moments for Wildwood residents for many years to come.

SOLCOW is the result of an effort between a local school, city parks, and the Morey Family to create a more useful, educational and overall better neighborhood park. SOLCOW is located in what was once an existing, under-utilized park, just a block from the school. A small grant from the city initiated the project, and that, combined with generous donations from the Morey Family and other local suppliers and builders, made the project come to fruition.

JRA Morey park design

As it reads on the dedication plaque: “[as] a community endeavor between city, school, and citizens, this park was designed to facilitate outdoor learning in a Socratic method while embracing math, science, philosophy, recycling and sustainability.” SOLCOW is a public park, the Morey Family has no ownership interest in it. It was, simply, a project that Jack Morey fell in love with. Add that to his love of public spaces, as well as his desire for children to find beauty in the simple things while appreciating all aspects of life, and you have a pretty magical space. This venture was created for the entire community, not a tourist destination, and reflects the true values of the Morey family.

Here’s how it all began:

FUN FACT #1: Jack Morey is still afraid of the school principal (who isn’t?).

While at the IAAPA Expo, in Orlando, in 2019, Jack’s wife Karen received a call from a Wildwood elementary school principal, inquiring about the fabricator of a bench they had recently added to one of the Piers’ parking lots. The school had just received a grant for a nearby park and wanted to build a bench for it. After visiting, upon their return, Jack realized the untapped potential of the park, and he decided simply plunking a bench down wouldn’t suffice.

After a dose of Jack’s clever persuasion, the principal and superintendent agreed to hold off on the project for a couple of weeks. The extra time enabled Jack to convince them of the park’s considerable creative possibilities and fundraising potential. Happenstance occurred, and a couple of JRA team members were due for a project visit. JRA Senior Project Director, Randy Smith, and Senior Project Designer, Scot Ross, brainstormed with Jack in the Morey’s Piers conference room and eventually devised a proposal to present to the school board. While Randy is already fairly astute in the subject of outdoor learning centers, it was a fun change from his day-to-day projects.

SOLCOW Master Plan

SOLCOW Master Plan, designed by JRA Senior Project Director, Randy Smith.

So, Why Socrates? Do kids even know who this guy was? As Jack Morey recounted, “Kids most likely, or, probably definitely have never heard of Socrates, but that is in large part the point. The whole park is a learning center, so, hopefully kids will know little or nothing about the hidden content that makes up the park. In a day when pop culture and instant gratification is so prevalent in young kids, it is important for kids to ty to find themselves, hence the quote, ‘To find yourself, you must think for yourself.’”

FUN FACT #2: THE LOGO…JRA’s Scot Ross, came up with several logo options, and the 5th grade class chose the most playful selection : )

SOLCOW Park Sign

While the initial $10,000 grant was the stimulus, the majority of the remaining park funds were generated by local contractors who graduated from the Wildwood school system, or, whose parents did. “In fact, as a deeper, and perhaps more meaningful celebration, most of the donors listed their deceased father as the donor,” said Morey. “This demonstrates both pride in a small community, and pride in being in the trades as masons, electricians, sign builders, landscapers, steel workers, etc.”

SOLCOW Sundial Moreys JRA

SOLCOW Sundial

The most important aspect of the park was that everything needed to have more than one use. For instance, the landscape boulders are seats that are positioned in a circle that embrace Socratic learning style. The stage is built out of 60-year-old recycled concrete with exposed aggregate. The existing flagpole marks the center of the sun, and the center of the sundial, with the planets stringing out from the center of the sun based on their true spacing proportions. The planets are sized in proportion to their actual size, and all make for a lovely bench. All of these attributes were conceptualized by Jack, Randy and Scot, and built by local contractors, along with a lot of assistance from the Wildwood public works and landscape department.

SOLCOW Park Planets

SOLCOW Planets

When asked what advice he would give to someone who wanted to do this kind of project, Morey keeps things positive. “During a pandemic, it can be your only creative outlet,” explained Morey. “Additionally, the word ‘community’ can have many meanings, but, for me, the most rewarding community is located right where you live. Lastly, relationships matter. If not for the relationships that my parents made with contractors, etc., decades ago, there is a good chance SOLCOW would have never had the momentum to happen.”

SOLCOW Dedication Plaque

SOLCOW Dedication Plaque