Rebuild: Investing in Improvements to Neighborhood Parks, Recreation Centers, and Libraries

Made possible by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax and a matching grant from the William Penn Foundation, Rebuild is an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars into facilities’ improvements at neighborhood parks, recreation centers, and libraries. Over 90 percent of our city’s community spaces need capital improvement, and years of deferred maintenance have left many of these buildings failing to meet residents’ needs.


From the Vare Recreation Center, that is literally being held up by support beams, to the Paschalville Library that has faced emergency closures in the winter due to a lack of heating, the facilities in our neighborhoods need major and well-planned investments so they remain accessible to today’s residents and future generations of Philadelphians.


Last June, City Council approved 64 sites for initial Rebuild investment. Two thirds of these sites are in high needs neighborhoods, and the majority are in predominantly Black or Hispanic neighborhoods. Additional Rebuild sites will be approved by Council in the coming years.


Work underway

In November 2018, the first of three Rebuild bonds was issued for $86.5 million. The bonds are made possible by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax. Since then, Rebuild has:

  1. Awarded five multimillion-dollar grants to qualified non-profit partners to lead the transformation of five parks and recreation centers: Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center in Strawberry Mansion; Heitzman Recreation Center in Harrowgate; Glavin Park in Port Richmond; Vare Recreation Center in Grays Ferry; and Olney Recreation Center in Olney.
  2. Broken ground on eight parks and playground renovations, led by Parks & Recreation or Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority contractors.
  3. Announced applications for an additional 12 sites that will receive major improvements, delivered by a third-party nonprofit.


Urgent repairs are underway at additional sites across the city

“Rebuild will fundamentally transform the quality of service and facilities Philadelphia Parks & Recreation provides city residents. Today, nearly 90 percent of our parks and recreation centers face critical facilities’ needs,” said Kathryn Ott Lovell, commissioner, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. “Rebuild is directly providing resources to those communities most in need, whose public spaces have been passed over for generations. Rebuild is the investment Philadelphia needs to upgrade and re-imagine these neighborhood spaces; working alongside residents to transform their parks and recreation spaces and improve their communities.”


Nicole Westerman, executive director for Rebuild, said Rebuild will always address critical building needs first, and then work with residents to redesign and re-imagine their public spaces.


The first five major Rebuild grant awards range from $1.2 million to $12 million and represent the needs at each site. For instance, Westerman said the front wall of the Vare Recreation Center is literally propped up by structural supports. Providing a safe and sustainable facility is the first step, and then reimagining these neighborhood places alongside the community is the next step.


“Community input and engagement is a key part of the Rebuild process. At these five sites, Rebuild and its nonprofit partners are in the engagement stage: hearing what residents and the community want to see from investment in their public spaces,” Westerman added.

Rebuild’s primary funding source is from bonds that are made possible by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax. In November 2018, the first bond was issued, providing Rebuild $86.5 million in bond revenue to invest in capital improvements. Westerman said that Rebuild expects to issue two bonds two more times over the course of the initiative. The bond funds are supplemented by a historic matching grant from the William Penn Foundation, a $48 million allocation from the City’s capital budget, and additional grant funds that Rebuild is working to raise.


The next recreation centers set for renovation work are:   


“Rebuild is not just about updating aging infrastructure and improving community spaces. It is also a chance to create more equity and diversity in the building trades, so Philadelphia construction sites begin to reflect the demographics of our city,” Westerman concluded. “Rebuild is meeting or exceeding its ambitious diversity and inclusion targets and has launched new programs to help diverse small businesses get work on Rebuild projects.”


Lead photo: Copyright City of Philadelphia. Photograph by Samantha Madera.


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