Francisville Playground: A Multi-Faceted Resource to North Philly Residents
For 90 years the Francisville Playground has served as a focus for its community. With recreation amenities for toddlers through adults, it is used throughout the year by a broad spectrum of Francisville’s residents.
Opened in 1926, it is located east of 19th Street, between Francis and Wylie Sts, or, about a block north of Fairmount Avenue. Its 3.7 acres and includes a baseball field, two basketball courts, two play areas for tots with swings and slides and a recreation center for children’s after school programs and various other programs.
During the day, the recreation center’s main activity is an after-school program for young kids, said Sheryl Antrom-Gibson, the playground’s acting director. The weekday 3-6PM sessions give young students, ages 5 to 12, a place to go when their parents are still at work. Antrom-Gibson said it is used by approximately 20 kids each day. Not just a child-care option, the program also gives kids a chance to work on school assignments. They can use the time to work on their own, but tutoring help is also available. Adding technical support to the school work, she continued, are the 30 computers in its Keyspot computer lab. Keyspot is a program of the federal government to bridge the “digital divide” between communities with computers in the home and those without. The program provides computers for several sites in Philadelphia.
The computers are not just for school kids, though. The resource, open three days a week, is for the entire community.
That focus on creativity continues with the playground’s music program, which meets twice a week for two hours. The interactive sessions include drumming, tonal instruments and rap singing, Antron-Gibson said. She added that the school-year program usually culminates with a concert performed at another city recreation center. Approximately 20 kids, ages 5 to 12 participate in the program each year.
A recent addition to the programs is the step-drill team from the step team organizer “Positive Movement” to give girls in their late teens a chance to participate in the marching routines choreographed to the syncopated beat of an accompanying drum squad. Positive Movement trains stepping groups and their drumming sections throughout the city to be part of its collective, Antrom-Gibson said. The Francisville team will give performances throughout the summer.
And girls of that same age group can also get a taste of fashion modeling with the Moda Kouture modeling group that comes to the playground once a week to show them how to model clothing and walk a fashion show runway, according to Antrom-Gibson.
When warmer weather finally takes hold, planter boxes will be arrayed in a patch of asphalt on the playground, and children will raise fruits and vegetables alongside flowers, Anstrom-Gibson said. Children can take the produce with them to use at home, but it is also used to to cook dishes at the recreation center that the participating kids can then take home to share with their families, she added.
In the summer the playground’s swimming pool provides an opportunity for everyone in the community to cool off. It is not just for the kids — the pool is reserved each day from 6 to 7 PM for an adults-only swim. And when the adults are not swimming they can relax in the style of a pool-side club as the pool deck becomes a “Pop-up Pool Lounge” with chaise lounges and other chairs circling the swimming area. To accommodate all who want to take advantage of that amenity, the lounge is extended onto an asphalt parcel adjacent to the pool area, where pieces of artificial turf are laid on the ground to give the space the feel of a yard.
The pool is open from 11am to 7 PM on weekdays and 1-5PM on weekends
Antrom-Gibson said kids not old enough for a swimming pool can still enjoy water fun in the playground’s “spray pool.” Water gushing from a tall pipe is directed downward in a showering spray that tots can run under. The interim director said it is such a unique amenity that kids from day camps throughout the city come to Francisville go use it.
Baseball comes alive in the summer not only at Citizens Bank Park but at the Francisville Playground, where the Francisville A’s, ages six to 12, play little league teams from throughout the city. But adults also play on teams with the Philly Sports Network and Philly Sport and Social.
The summer is also the time for the playground’s Day Camp which begins in June and meets Monday through Friday from 8:30AM to 3PM for six weeks. Breakfast and lunch provided for kids who register for the camp by the city’s Department of Recreation, and The main attraction of the camp is the various trips made to places like Dorney Park and Clementon Park amusement parks. Those trips are arranged by the Department of Recreation for all city playground day camps, said Antrom-Gibson. The amusement parks are open only to day camp kids in the mornings on those trips, she added.
Other activities at the day camp also include gardening, outdoor activities, group games and education, said Antrom-Gibson.
Though planned programs account for the bulk of the activities at the playground, private events are held in the recreation center. Recently, on successive days, two “re-passed” receptions were held there. The gatherings following a funeral are not uncommon for the center.
Though her tenure at the playground is only temporary, the acting director said she would also like to organize a summer basketball team there. She would also like to see the kitchen renovated before she leaves.