For years, Cione Playground and the nearby fields have been one of the largest areas of green space in the River Wards, stretching from Lehigh Avenues along Aramingo Avenue down to Huntingdon Street.
But the park is currently in a state of disrepair. Obscene graffiti is scrawled on the playground equipment. Discarded needles have been found left lying in the grassy areas. The football team of St. Anne’s parochial school sometimes uses the field to practice, but its condition is too shoddy to hold actual games.
“Do you want your child playing where there’s broken bottles, where there’s needles?” asked neighbor Sharon Morgan, treasurer of Friends of Cione. “When you come to our neighborhood, it’s one of the first things you see. And it’s not appealing. If I was moving to the neighborhood and thought this is where my kids are going to play, I’d think twice.”
Don Gould, owner of Memphis Market & Grill, recently bought a new sign at Huntingdon Street and Aramingo Avenue which welcomes passers-by to Olde Richmond and Cione Playground, to make people more aware of the facilities. But it needs a lot more work than a new sign can do, he said.
“The playground’s in bad shape,” Gould said. “In heavy rain, kids can’t use the playground because of heavy flooding. That’s terrible.”
Three months ago, a new community group, the Friends of Cione, was formed to spearhead fundraising efforts to get the playground, fields and facilities refurbished. It’s the first group dedicated to upkeep of the field in at least a decade, members said, and they are planning on setting up as a permanent new organization.
It’s even more important to these neighbors that Cione be saved because it is named after Philadephia Police Officer Frederick Cione. A Huntingdon Street man, Cione was killed in the line of duty in 1970, and is the only slain police officer in Philadelphia history whose murder was never solved.
“This man’s memory deserves to have something looking good and not just a rundown forgotten playground that used to mean something,” said Brian White, president of the Friends of Cione.
White grew up across the street from Cione field, and played there as a kid. But now, he said, the basketball court rims have fallen, some of the light fixtures sway in the wind and seem dangerously unstable, and the playground, which faces the busy intersection of Aramingo and Lehigh avenues, is dangerously close to traffic.
White said that the Friends of Cione aims to eventually fix all of these issues.
“It’s going to be a long journey, but it starts with one step. If we make this journey, it will be worth it,” White said. “We’re in it for the long haul.”
A few steps have already been taken. The Olde Richmond Civic Association is working with City Councilman Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.) to repair the fencing at Lehigh and Aramingo avenues so that kids in the playground are securely separated from nearby traffic.
The Friends of Cione volunteers have also started repainting the inside of the Cione Recreation Center.
White said that for now, the Friends of Cione group members are just selling T-shirts to neighbors to kick off fundraising efforts. But they are applying to create an official non-profit, so that they can ramp up fundraising efforts in the coming months and years.
ldquo;We all know the city just can’t support us right now,” Morgan said. “The ice skating rink needs to be redone, the basketball court needs to be redone — so we’re all chipping in and doing it ourselves.” ••