Northeast Times

Playtime upgrade

Big­ger and bet­ter: A play­ground off of Ver­ree Road is un­der con­struc­tion to in­clude equip­ment for dis­abled chil­dren. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

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.

ALREADY DONE

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.” ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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