It looks like the little playground at Verree Road and Tustin Street just got erased.
All but one piece of equipment is gone. The shredded tires that had been spread on the ground to cushion the play area for kids have been pushed together into a little hill.
But if you look closer, you’ll see there are pieces of construction gear parked on the site, and that paint, stakes and tape mark where the as-yet-to-be-named playground will return — a little bigger and a lot better. The city is spending more than $800,000 to make the playground accessible to all kids, said City Councilman Brian O’Neill (R-10th dist.). Some of the money will come from his capital budget and some from the city’s Parks & Recreation Department. Children with disabilities will be able to enjoy play equipment that will be easier for them to use.
For example, steps will be a little lower, said Karen Kaczorek, a member of the Friends of Pennypack Park. She said sides on a sliding board will be a little higher, and safer.
“Overall, it will have a lot of great climbing equipment,” Kaczorek said, but, “It will look kind of average — sliding boards, teeter-totters, things like that.”
“It’s going to be wonderful,” she said as she walked through the construction site on April 18.
And, when it’s finished in September, the playground will be the first such facility in the city, O’Neill said, that provides “universal access” to kids of all abilities.
Kaczorek said she’s been working to get a city playground made usable for disabled children since she read about one in a suburban newspaper in 2008 and thought it would be a great idea to have such a playground in Northeast Philadelphia.
She said she did a lot of research and talked to Sheila Grossman, another Friend of the Park, who with her husband, Stan, worked in the late 1990s to get city money for playground equipment at the park property across Verree Road from CORA Services.
There had been a playground there even before that, Grossman said, but not much of one.
Kaczorek said she asked the councilman for his help in 2010, and money was put aside for the work. The project was going to begin a couple of times — once in 2011 and in 2012. But this year, she said, it was for real, and work began in March.
O’Neill said Friends of Pennypack Park members, neighborhood residents and parents with disabled children took part in planning sessions for the new playground. Some of the parents had seen playgrounds designed with disabled children in mind, he said.
Kaczorek and Grossman said they went on a road trip to look at a fully-accessible playground in Wilmington, Del. While on a family visit in California, O’Neill said, he was impressed with the large Shane’s Inspiration playground in Sherman Oaks.
“I saw kids with all kinds of abilities playing together,” he said. “The kids with no disabilities are getting introduced at an early age to the fact that not everybody’s so fortunate,” he said, but they’re learning that all kids want to play and have fun.
Kaczorek said the Verree Road playground construction will be around some of the young ornamental trees on the site. Grossman is particularly proud of a magnolia tree now blossoming with yellow flowers that she bought from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
You have to use your imagination to think about what will be there — a busy playground that draws families from all over, Kaczorek said.
“It’s not much to look at right now, but I’m happy,” she said, “and it’s going to make a lot of people happy.”
O’Neill said people are going to visit the completed playground and want a similar facility closer to their own homes.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the only one for long,” he said.
Not five miles away, new playground equipment was being enjoyed by kids at the Officer Daniel Boyle Memorial Recreation Center on Stevens Road in Somerton.
The children, many there with an afterschool program from the nearby Comly School, were having too much fun on April 18 to pay much attention to the adults who gathered near the new playground equipment that opened up a month ago.
Refurbishing the playground equipment took about a year, more than $563,000 and some determination, said Michael DiBerardinis, deputy mayor for environmental and community resources.
“Projects like this don’t just happen by themselves,” he said during a rededication ceremony and ribbon-cutting.
It didn’t happen from the top down, O’Neill said, but from the bottom up. The community’s ideas were sought about how the playground for little kids should be designed.
“This is the heart and soul of the playground,” he said, glancing at the kids on nearby swings. “This brings parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles, brothers and sisters out with little kids and it changes the whole feel of the place.”
Crowds at a playground are good for security, too, he said.
“The people who screw around with our equipment and often don’t have the best of intentions don’t want to be around witnesses,” he said.
Not that Boyle is considered a worry, but, “We’re not taking any chances with this kind of investment. … There are cameras and there are Mosquito devices, sonic devices. You don’t know where they are, but if you’re under 21, you don’t want to be here when they’re on. … You’ll run away, holding your ears.”
The Mosquito was developed in the United Kingdom. It produces an irritating sound that can be heard only by teenagers to people in their early 20s. O’Neill said it was installed last year in the recently refurbished Chalfont Playground in Millbrook as a method of preventing late-night vandalism. The noise starts automatically at 9 p.m. and runs all night. City officials said last year that security tapes show that young people stay away from the devices.
Steven Jacobs, a Parks & Rec communications specialist who is 23, said he can vouch for the Mosquito’s effectiveness. He was at the playground when it was being tested.
“It’s very annoying,” he said. “It’s piercing.”
State Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.) said Boyle Rec, named for a Philadelphia police officer who was killed in the line of duty, is a neighborhood asset that should be appreciated and used.
He said many developers who built the city’s neighborhoods didn’t take into account the need for green space and the need for kids to play.
Looking at the new playground filled with happy children, he said, “I think this is the main reason this is one of the best neighborhoods in the city.” ••