O’Neill: More improvements ahead at Fox Chase playground

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. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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