Northeast Times

A fun, cool summer for Clemente

Kids play on the newly in­stalled equip­ment at Clem­ente Play­ground last week. HOME NEWS PHOTO/ MATT GOD­FREY

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.

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