Officials celebrate six new playgrounds, pledge more to come

Liam Murphy took his first steps 18 months ago on a graffiti-marked concrete slab that was the Jose Manuel Collazo playground in Fairhill, beneath netless basketball hoops.

On Monday, Liam, now 3, clasped the neon-green sides of a refurbished jungle gym in the park, hoisting himself up in a play area that now features a spray ground to cool kids down in the summer, benches, picnic tables, and a paved walking track.

“There’s a lot of young kids that come here now,” said his mother, Lisa Murphy. “This park is big enough that there’s space for the young ones and the big ones so they’re not running into each other. I feel safe with him here.”

Collazo is one of 15 playgrounds in the city being renovated by Parks for People, a private-public partnership that began in 2012 involving the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, the city, the School District, and the Water Department.

On Monday, the trust hosted a midway-point bus tour, showing off some of the six completed sites to donors and City Council members. Nine more playgrounds are in the pipeline. The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit, has launched a campaign to bring green space to within 10 minutes’ walk of every resident in Philadelphia.

That starts with transforming seas of asphalt into rain gardens and play and sport areas. The first five projects cost $5.2 million, evenly split between public and private money. The remaining nine will cost about $1 million each.

Mayor Kenney spoke as part of the bus tour and touted the $500 million Rebuild program, which will tackle renovations to playgrounds as well as libraries and recreation centers. Kenney said only about 10 percent of the city’s 400-plus public facilities are now in acceptable shape.

Mayor Kenney talks to people as they play wall ball before the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Jose Manuel Callazo playground. (MARGO REED / Staff Photographer)

“Leaky roofs, not enough outdoor lighting … spaces too small to hold kids who want to participate,” he said.

Collazo “is an example of what our sites could be,” Kenney added. “This is neighborhood improvement.  This is neighborhood equity. People who live across from here and around here deserve a facility like this and not some rundown, tattered old piece of crap. This is how you get kids to believe in a future.”

Most of the remaining playgrounds are in schoolyards where asphalt blacktops will be turned into softer, greener spaces,  meant to double as outdoor classrooms. The schools must agree to keep the spaces open for a few hours after school and on weekends for community use.

William Cramp Elementary’s cracked asphalt top recently turned shades of green and blue.

“What you see before you is a reading, science, social studies, math, phys-ed, active learning environment, very cleverly disguised as a playground,” said Cramp’s principal, Deandra Logan.

Through partnerships,  the schoolyard now has bird, bat, and butterfly houses; a vegetable and herb garden; and a weather station. Next year the school will join with the Philadelphia Orchard project to bring in fruit trees. There is a gardening club, and an artist in residence is working on murals overlooking the park.

“All of this started with a playground,” Logan said. “They didn’t just come and plunk it in our front yard and leave.”

Jeff Danter, a senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land, said the School District had committed itself to 15 additional schoolyard projects.

Recently, plans for a new playground funded through the program at Nebinger Elementary in South Philadelphia faced pushback from some residents, who worried about noise or violence at a playground that stayed open after school.

Many other residents spoke in favor of the playground, which would stay open until 6 p.m. Danter said construction was going on as planned.

“We have agreements between agencies to allow the ground to open at night or on the weekend, so it’s actually a community park as well as a schoolyard,” he said. “We see that as a benefit, not as a problem.”

Completed and upcoming playground renovation projects:

Completed: William Dick School, William Cramp School, John Taggart School, Hank Gathers Rec Center, Conestoga Playground, 37th & Mount Vernon St Playground, Collazo Playground

In Construction: Adair School, Nebinger School, EM Stanton School, John Patterson School

Pre‐Construction: Southwark School, Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, Lanier Playground, Fishtown Rec Center