Just in time to beat the worst of summer heat, the city finished up some cool renovations at Clemente Playground in Spring Garden.
Often in a city as large as Philadelphia, thanks to the red tape that clogs up City Hall, change to city-owned properties can happen slowly.
But, at 18th and Wallace streets in Spring Garden, $680,000 in upgrades to Roberto Clemente Playground have been completed in just four months — quickly enough that children using the playground have noticed how much work has been put into the play place to bring it back to life.
“It’s beautiful!” said a smiling Devon Thomas, 8, as he took in the park during a bright, sunny Wednesday morning last week.
During the morning, children from the Spring Garden Civic Association’s Summer Day Camp filled the newly renovated playground to enjoy the new play equipment.
Gone is the broken, cracked asphalt.
Gone is the trash and dirt that the children said piled up near the basketball courts.
All of it is replaced with colorful new play equipment, a vividly bright new safety matting — to cut down on skinned knees — and fresh paint on the basketball court.
There’s even a water feature in a newly installed palm tree-shaped fountain that offers a refreshing spray of cold water.
“The ground was all crumbly and black,” said Angelique Rhodes, 9, as she pointed to where the colored safety matting now sits. “There was a hole right there! It was all messed up.”
Cassie Field, camp coordinator for the day camp, said the group, which included about 40 children from the area, aged five through 11, really enjoys the new playground features.
The children’s favorite?
“That’s the sprinkler,” she said. “In July and August it gets so hot. They just really like the water.”
Just four months ago, in March, the effort to revitalize the playground began and, Justino Navarro, vice president and board member of the SGCA said, the civic association worked hard and chipped in $80,000 to help upgrade the playground.
The money enabled the group to install decorative fencing — instead of simple chain link fences — around the perimeter of the park and add other features like curbing to the newly paved areas.
The remaining $600,000 came from the city, thanks to the office of City Councilman Darrell Clarke (D- 5th dist.). That money provided the new play equipment, water feature, safety matted play area, new benches throughout the playground and other improvements.
“It’s been a long haul,” said Navarro.
In fact, the improvements to Roberto Clemente Playground cap decades of effort that has seen neighbors working to take back the area.
There was a time in the late 1980s when the playground was home to illicit activity and drug sales.
But, neighbors reclaimed the area in the 1990s, when they began hosting annual festivals here.
Yet, as recently as 2009 the City Paper called Clemente Playground “the last sore spot” in the area. These upgrades hope to change that and make the park more welcoming for families.
“That’s what we wanted. We wanted to transform this playground to make it more accessible to everyone in this diverse neighborhood,” said Navarro.
Along with the newly installed features, Navarro said the community group has prepared an area to the side of the playground for a children’s garden to be used by the nearby Laura Wheeler Waring public elementary school to allow students to learn about nature.
“I’m hoping they do something with a science class so they can plant something and watch it grow,” said Navarro.
With the playground upgrades completed — all that remained on Wednesday, last week was some tree planting — Navarro said that already he’s seen more families and children utilizing the space than in the past.
“Oh, absolutely,” he replied, when asked if people are spending more time at the playground. “There’s much more activity than ever before.”
Roberto Clemente Playground is located at the intersection on 18th and Wallace streets in Spring Garden. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The spray fountain is operated from about 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily.