City and elected offcials recently joined community members at an East Mt. Airy recreation center to break ground on a long-awaited overhaul effort.

On Friday, Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, state Sen. LeAnna Washington, state Rep. Cherelle Parker and Susan Slawson, first deputy commissioner for Recreation & Programs, each had a stint with a shovel to ceremoniously kick-off work at the Pleasant Playground Recreation Center at 6750 Boyer St.

The $2.8 million project will bring a new recreation center to the site. The structure, which will replace the existing one, will house two activity rooms, a multi-purpose room, staff kitchen, restrooms, and office. A new playground will also be part of the project.

The new recreation center will feature sustainable elements, including a "green" vegetated roof and energy-efficient HVAC systems.

Funding will be shared between city and state governments, with the state contributing approximately $2 million of the project's construction costs.

Construction is scheduled to be completed in May 2013. Community leaders indicated that access to sections of the center will continue throughout the construction timeline.

Naomi Swint, a 22nd Ward committee person and Pleasant Playground neighbor for 54 years, said that she can't wait for the new center to open.

She recalled community efforts to prevent a bingo parlor from being installed at the park where the pool is currently located. Through their concerted efforts, the proposed parlor never came to fruition.
 
"I'm so proud," she said. "I wouldn't miss this for anything."

A partnership between elected officials

Bass gave Donna Reed Miller, her predecesor in the Eighth, credit for spearheading the project years ago.

"This has been so long in coming," said Bass.

According to Miller, conversations about rehabbing the park started more than ten years ago. Financial allocations began 2003, with Sen. Washington contributing $1 million to the project after her election in 2005.

Miller said the project was the product of a partnership between elected officials at both the city and state level, a collaboration that, in her words, "doesn't normally happen."

Washington elaborated on this remark, noting that Northwest Philadelphia is unique "because we as elected officials, regardless of our differences, come together when it comes to the community."

"No one person can deliver money for a project such as this," she surmised.

Rep. Parker continued the financial theme, telling the dozens gathered that this is taxpayer money at work.

"The money that is being reinvested in this community is money that the people who live in this community have contributed to the economy," she noted.

Parker said state funding for the project came through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The expenditure was originally authorized under the administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell.

A new and safe recreation center

In addition to working to secure funding, officials present on Friday are also working to ensure safety at Pleasant Playground and across the city.

Bass, as chair of City Council's Committee on Parks & Recreation, introduced two ordinances on Thursday that, if passed, would require employees at local parks and recreation centers to provide an annual report of crimes that take place on their grounds.

"This city needs reliably safe places with constructive environments for our kids to go after school and on the weekends," she said at the time. "This legislation will help us compile data to effectively keep our parks and recreation centers safe."

The ordinances are expected to be discussed at a hearing early next year.

Asked if there had been any safety concerns at Pleasant Playground, Bass said that nuisance issues, as opposed to crime, tend to occur at the park.

That said, the center's safety is certainly a concern for Bass.

"This is the playground for me and my little girl," she said. "We will be playing here."