The city has prepared a preliminary list of parks, recreation centers, and libraries that would undergo major renovations as part of Mayor Kenney’s $500 million Rebuild project.
The initial proposal, obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News, recommends improvements to 60 sites. As many as 150 sites could eventually be upgraded. The list, however, could change based on feedback from City Council.
First Proposed Rebuild Sites
The city completed an inventory of the state of its facilities in 2016. The results were pretty grim. About 90 percent of the city’s 400 libraries and parks were found to need improvements. Those upgrades range in cost from about $50,000 to $13 million, with an average of $1.4 million spent across all sites, according to the administration’s preliminary project statement.
“Part of the reason we presented this earlier is these are based on facility assessments from 2015,” said city spokeswoman Lauren Hitt. “Some data, we may find, is outdated. We may hear that a gymnasium roof somewhere that we thought was fine caved in last year. We’re just making sure the assessments are still true for this first round of sites — and I’d again stress, for anyone disappointed, this is only the first round.”
Across the city, recreation directors, librarians, and volunteer staff try to make the most of their broken-down buildings, grappling with heating and wiring and sewer problems, cracking foundations, and peeling paint. Vare Recreation Center in South Philadelphia had to shut down this year due to concerns about the structural soundness of the 100-year-old building.
The administration selected the sites with Council input, giving priority to areas dealing with high poverty, drug offenses, and health challenges. A secondary goal was stabilizing or lifting “neighborhoods in transition.”
“Unfortunately Philadelphia has needs all across the city, so the geographic spread of sites definitely reflects that,” said David Gould, who is Rebuild’s deputy director of community engagement and communications. “We’re also looking at facilities that have really urgent deficiencies as well. Taking all that into account, we ended up with a first group of sites.”
The list of sites has not been released to the public by the administration. “We don’t want to get a neighborhood excited that investment is coming and then have to tell them that throughout the process, things have changed,” Gould said.
Gould said the hope is that Council passes a resolution authorizing the renovations by the end of the year.
But don’t expect widespread construction to start immediately.
The administration has said it won’t borrow the first of three $100 million bonds as long as the tax on sweetened beverages is tied up in court. The 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax would pay off debt service on the bonds. A coalition led by the American Beverage Association has been fighting the tax. Both parties are waiting to hear whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decides to hear the case.
In the meantime, some work will begin as early as 2018, Gould said. About $19 million in capital funds has been designated for Rebuild through June 2019.
“We plan to start as soon as possible with a first round of projects, but it’ll be at a smaller scare,” Gould said.
On Wednesday night, the Rebuild Oversight Board held its first meeting in Kingsessing’s Recreation Center, a 100-plus-year-old building in Southwest Philadelphia, which is on the initial list for repairs.
The oversight board is a 17-member committee that will evaluate the program’s progress and gather community feedback at four public meetings a year. The committee includes members of the Kenney administration, community members, and City Council members Jannie L. Blackwell, Cindy Bass and Bobby Henon.
Henon said Wednesday night he was pleased with how the selection process has gone, though he’s mostly been involved in conversations about facilities in his Northeast Philadelphia district.
“I think they’ve been selected carefully. There’s a lot to look at here. It’s not just bricks and mortar, it’s bricks, mortar, programming, people and other resources that compliment the investment,” Henon said.
Before the group met in her recreation center, Kingsessing recreation director Jamila Abdur quickly ticked off the storm of problems with her building. It has no ramps, elevators or chairlifts, which means the elderly and disabled are unable to attend programs or events. Its plumbing and heating need work. Parts of the brick building are sweltering. Others are freezing.
An auditorium, heavily used for dance and theater programs, doesn’t have working lights and the curtains are in tatters. The basement, used for music and karate classes, has a wood floor that’s splintering and caving in. Outdated and low-hanging lights obstruct basketball play in the gymnasium.
“We want help,” Abdur said. “That’s exciting to hear that we’re on the list. This is a facility that not only deserves it but needs it.”