The rededication of a baseball field in honor of fallen Firefighter Daniel Sweeney at Fox Chase Recreation Center was just the start of long-term improvements at the sprawling city-operated playground, according to Councilman Brian O’Neill.
During the bi-monthly meeting of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association and Town Watch, O’Neill told residents that he hopes to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in several projects ranging from lighting upgrades to the repair of a water-spewing dragon. The Sweeney Field will be the jewel of the effort.
“We want it to be the best hardball field in the city outside of Citizens Bank Park,” O’Neill said.
Impetus for the effort grew months ago when plans were made to re-name the field after Sweeney, a Fox Chase resident and Philadelphia firefighter who died alongside Lt. Robert Neary on April 9, 2012, at the scene of a five-alarm vacant warehouse blaze in Kensington.
While inspecting the field in advance of the June 23 dedication ceremony, O’Neill noticed that its condition wasn’t up to standard for such an important occasion. Specifically, the decades-old backstop looked to be in shambles. He secured $40,000 in capital project funding to install a new backstop in time for the ceremony and ensuing Sweeney Memorial Softball Tournament.
The field will get plenty of use. As one of the Department of Parks and Recreation’s “A” facilities, Fox Chase is one of the largest and busiest rec centers in the city. It has eight diamonds, but seven of those have 60-foot base paths (the standard for softball and Little League), while just one has the 90-foot base paths required for regulation hardball. Also, a full-size soccer field and several smaller soccer fields overlap the baseball/softball outfield area.
The current floodlight configuration is insufficient for evening baseball and makes evening soccer difficult to play, according to the councilman. Soccer players have complained of “dead spots” on their main field where players lose sight of the ball in the dark.
At another end of the recreation center, underground plumbing that causes flooding of the playground equipment sitting atop a rubberized safety mat needs to be repaired, O’Neill said. The pipe that feeds a water-breathing dragon is faulty. The project would include installation of additional water-spray equipment. There is no timetable for the work, O’Neill said, but it would leave Fox Chase as one of the city’s few recreation centers with a pool and a spray park.
The councilman further proposes to remove unnecessary paving from the recreation center, leaving more “green” space.
“I believe that with what I can fund out of the capital budget, we may not have the most Starbucks in the city, but we’re going to have the best playgrounds, and Fox Chase will be the best,” O’Neill said.
The councilman gave an update on another, smaller playground project that’s in progress. Parks and Rec workers have removed the swings and climbing equipment at Verree Road and Tustin Street. The problem is, the new play equipment hasn’t been delivered from the manufacturer and isn’t expected for weeks, if not months.
O’Neill said it was a mistake in planning that the site will be tied up for the entire summer. The old equipment should’ve been left in place until the new equipment was ready for installation. Nonetheless, the community will appreciate the new configuration, which will be fully accessible to children, including those with disabilities.
There have been four playground renovation projects in the 10th Council District in the last two years, he said.
In unrelated business, the Fox Chase Homeowners Association voted not to oppose an application by the American Heritage Credit Union for a new sign outside its 428 Rhawn St. office. The civic group board did not take a formal count of the show of hands, although only two of about 25 residents at the meeting voted against the sign.
The sign would be freestanding and 20 feet tall. It would be similar to signs posted at other AHFCU locations with a large double-sided, internally-illuminated placard featuring the business emblem, as well as a smaller LED sign (also double-sided) for digital messages and images. The total display area would be 165 square feet. The city’s zoning code allows up to 100 square feet.
A couple of neighbors complained that large signs detract from the small-town character of the neighborhood and noted that there are two billboards on the same property, abutting the SEPTA Fox Chase rail line.
AHFCU vice president Richard Hasson said that the billboards were there when the credit union bought the property several years ago. Clear Channel owns the billboards and has a long-term lease on the ground that won’t expire for another five years or more. Hasson offered to meet with neighbors to discuss removing the billboards once the lease expires. ••