Neighbors rally for better conditions at Kendrick Rec Center

The neighbors who turned out at Kendrick Recreation Center in Roxborough on Thursday evening did not get a promise of what they wanted most, a new rec center to replace Kendrick. But they did get a commitment from the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation that the aging center – a beloved fixture in the community, built in 1926 and showing every one of its years – would get what it needed most: a new roof.

“We can do two [rec center] roofs in the city per year,” said Leo Dignam, deputy commissioner of Parks and Recreation, “and this is gonna be one.”

The rally at Kendrick was organized by the newly-created Kendrick Advisory Council. Between 75 and 100 Roxborough residents turned out on a cold and rainy night to make the case for a new center and hear what city and government officials had to say in response. Attendees had to enter in the middle of practice for the Kendrick Kippettes gymnastics team, whose mat for vaulting practice stretched from one end of the lobby down the front hall into another room. Kendrick doesn’t have sufficient space to house it any other way. Gymnasts and residents dodged one another while they waited for the meeting to begin.

The problem with the mat is typical of the difficulties at Kendrick, said numerous speakers during the roughly hour-and-a-half long meeting. In addition to Dignam and other Parks and Recreation representatives, 4th District City Councilman Curtis Jones – whose district includes Roxborough – and representatives from State Senator Vincent Hughes and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown were there to hear and respond to their views.

Working through water damage 

Opening remarks were delivered by Ernie Barille, president of the 21st Ward Athletic Association, who fired up the crowd with an impassioned pitch for what he said was needed at Kendrick.

“Our ultimate goal is a brand new center, with a computer lab, senior center, state of the art equipment and a theater space.” he said. “We want a welcoming environment. We don’t have that here. It’s time for our neighborhood to be served.”

The most visible evidence of that lack of a welcoming environment is in the center’s lobby, where water damage stretches down the left-hand wall. The center’s leaky roof and subsequent damage have forced the closing of the senior center in the basement, which Barille said was now unusable due to flooding and mold.

Similar damage had forced the closing of the theater space on the upper floor. Ryan Tygh, artistic director of Broadway Rox, a performance group at the center, said that his group now operates out of a much smaller space that accommodates about 60 people, instead of the four to five-hundred who could attend performances in the closed theater space.

Calling for increased staff 

A number of speakers testified to the impact that Kendrick’s recreation space and programs had had on their lives and those of their parents and children. Brian Morris, president of the Kendrick Advisory Council, described the girls’ basketball league he supervised and said that it was typical of the volunteerism that helped keep Kendrick going. But, he said, In addition to better facilities, the center also needed an increase in permanent paid staff.

“One person can’t do it alone,” he said.

Such wishes came up against the realities of the city’s current budget pinch. Regarding staffing levels, observed Dignam, “Kendrick has one full-time employee, one part-time and one caretaker on staff. By current standards, it’s fully staffed. We used to have 1,700 employees in the department. Now it’s 602 for all the parks and recreation centers combined, including Fairmount Park.”

Councilman Jones said that it would take approximately $4 million to build a new rec center at Kendrick. The 4th District receives about $900,000 per year for all of the parks and rec centers in the district, about 35 in total. Of that, $250,000 would be earmarked for Kendrick in the coming year, enough to make a difference in the center’s condition.

A pledge of support 

In addition to the new roof, which Dignam stated would be done in the new fiscal year, the center will also get an upgrade to the gymnasium floor. Dignam said that of the 163 work orders for repairs which Parks and Rec had received for Kendrick in the last year, 140 had been completed.

For the long term, said Jones, “$4 million is not going to be easy but you’ve got my commitment.” He later added that he was heartened by the turnout at the meeting and said that it was important to show the level of community support for the center.

The city has only built two new rec centers in the last ten years, he said, and “none of these facilities get done with just city funds.” He said that he had been in contact with Congressman Chaka Fattah and State Senator Vincent Hughes, both of whom had pledged their support in raising funds toward a new center. State Rep. Pam DeLissio of the 194th District also pledged her support at the meeting.

The next meeting of the Kendrick Advisory Council will be Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at the center, 5822 Ridge Avenue. For information visit www.KendrickRec.org.

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