Planned Renovations For Heitzman Rec Center Outlined at Meeting with Councilman Squilla
The Heitzman Rec Center (3631 Amber St.) is often the site of civic meetings regarding important issues facing Harrowgate residents. On February 22, the rec center was the scene of a meeting regarding the planned renovations to the rec center’s main facility, its playground and its ball fields.
The park is actively maintained by Parks and Recreation as well as members of the community, but according to residents, the playground has been in a state of decline for many years. Representative from Parks and Rec were also in attendance at the meeting to discuss the tentative plan and address concerns from neighbors. The room was tightly packed in anticipation of guest speaker Councilman Mark Squilla’s arrival.
Mayor Kenney recently unveiled a new plan to fund civic projects throughout Philadelphia. According to Philly.com, the mayor wants to pump $600 million into revamping city rec centers, parks and libraries. Councilman Squilla had stated that Heitzman is a top priority of his, but Regina Farrell, president of the Heitzman advisory council, made sure the audience understood the importance of this meeting.
“We’re here to tell him what we need immediately and what we can wait for,” Farrell said. “We’ve been waiting 10 years for our swing sets. Half the kids are grown up and they haven’t had a swing.”
Squilla was also accompanied by Frank Fabey of Parks and Recreation, as well as two landscape architects from Parks and Rec’s design team. The architects brought a tentative design layout as well as pictures of possible equipment to be installed. According to Squilla, he wants neighbors — specifically local kids — to be involved in the design process. He hopes to make Heitzman playground a safer place for children to play.
“A lot of times we come down to places and people say how come other playgrounds get something before we do?” Squilla said. “They do because the people are very outgoing and involved in the playground and what they do is let us know what their needs and concerns are.”
The tentative plan includes revamped separate play areas for two to five year olds and five to twelve year olds. It also outlines a fitness area strategically placed so health and safety conscious parents can watch their kids, watch the park entrance and get in some cardio. The Heitzman Rec Center will undergo repairs to make it a more modern facility. The pool will remain, as well as the baseball field. The basketball court will also be redone. One resident also suggested installing more trees along the Castor Avenue side of the park.
One of the largest changes set for Heitzman will involve the hockey rink, which residents and the councilman both described as under used. The plan is to replace it with a multi-use volleyball and intramural soccer court. Squilla hopes that a new facility will encourage more use and strengthen the community. “This is how we build a neighborhood,” Squilla said. “This is how we build a community.”
According to Councilman Squilla, much of the playground equipment is outdated and cannot be simply replaced without substantial renovations to make it compliant with current city codes. He says current standards of safety surfaces are more strict nowadays and would require replacement before the playground could be properly repaired. The rubber safety surfaces are also worn and need to be replaced.
Residents casually discussed what types of repairs and upgraded equipment the park needs. According to Farrell, the court needs new nets and backboards now. She pointed out that there are multiple intramural teams using Heitzman, including four basketball teams.
Jim Hardy, president of the Kensington Soccer Club, was also at the meeting along with several of his coaches. Hardy’s organization teaches local kids the game of soccer and according to him, he’s very excited to have a brand new place for children to learn how to play.
“I’ve been talking to the U.S. Soccer Foundation and they’re looking to build urban outdoor soccer surfaces to let more children play,” Hardy said. “They said they would be willing to, with the right proposal, fund half of building a high quality surface.”
The tone began to shift when people started talking about money.
“We’re going to do this in the next couple weeks, so get that money up because we’re ready to go,” Farrell said, looking at Councilman Squilla.
Then the conversation shifted to time. One resident asked, “We’re trying to figure out when will [the renovation] start?”
Councilman Squilla and the speakers from Parks and Rec looked at each other before responding, “Three years to more.”
The audience expressed their disapproval of the timeline and told Councilman Squilla that a three year time frame was unacceptable. Farrell pointed out that the curfew in the neighborhood makes it harder for kids to travel to other playgrounds.
“Some of these kids can’t go to other playgrounds. These kids need it,” Farrell said.
Councilman Squilla responded, “We don’t want to lie and say six months and then it’s not going to happen,” Squilla said.
According to Squilla, the funding for this project will be available and the most important thing the community can do is get together and figure out what improvements will best meet the needs of the community. “The reason why we’re here now is because the community is involved now… There was a time when we had a lack of involvement in the community,” Squilla said. “We need your involvement. It’s the only way to keep the playground vibrant.”