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Shissler Rec Center opens new sprayground

Shissler Rec Center opened its new “sprayground” Thursday and the preschool students who graduated just before the fountains turned on, along with their friends and family, took to it immediately. Within minutes kids were running and shrieking through the water and splashing in the sprayground’s plant feature. Exactly what project leaders hoped for.

The sprayground is part of the Mural Arts program’s Restored Spaces Initiative and part of the Shissler Greenway and Impressions of the Delaware series within that initiative. It is the result of tremendous collaboration and years of brainstorming just what to do with the previously vacant space to the side of the Shissler Rec Center. 

To date, the Mural Arts series added colorful murals and and community-produced art to the rec center’s exterior walls, nearby sidewalks, planters and, now, the sprayground. All of these elements aim to show the inextricable relationship between the river and the neighborhood, and the sprayground serves as yet another interpretation of this “Take Me to the River” theme. 

“For us it’s a new and innovative way for the kids to play and also learn about where their water comes from and where it goes,” said Edward Fagan, Jr., director of grants and special initiatives at the Department of Parks and Recreation. 

The department is one of many partners who have contributed to the sprayground and other area improvements, and Fagan said the sprayground in particular is a great example of a project that combines both park and recreation elements. 

The sprayground did not come without bureaucratic, ownership, water issue and other strings attached, but seeing so many kids run and play in the splash pad, Mural Arts Project Manager Shari Hersh said, “It made me feel like it was all worth it.”

BIG GREEN BLOCK

The sprayground and its Shissler Greenway and Impressions of the Delaware parent project are part of an even larger collaborative effort, the Big Green Block, which has set out to turn the Shissler Rec Center and surrounding area into the biggest, greenest block in the country. In doing so, the Big Green Block is creating a green passageway from Shissler Rec Center to neighborhood parks and on to the Delaware River. 

Working on 14-acres of space, the Big Green Block so far includes stormwater trenches that gather water from Blair Street and a parking lot outside of the rec center, a large greenspace that connects the rec center with neighboring Palmer Park, a small field for toddlers, an art filled corridor to connect the neighborhood to the river and, most recently, this sprayground. 

In June the Big Green Block partners will open a dog park at the corner of Blair and Palmer streets, and construction will begin on the Shissler Rec Center basketball court. The court will be repaved and a stormwater management system for the rec center will be installed beneath the pavement. 

Groups ranging from the New Kensington CDC (NKCDC), Philadelphia Water Department, Department of Parks and Recreation, Sustainable 19125, the Mural Arts Program are among those who have contributed. 

“In my mind, this is one of the greatest public-private collaborations,” said Shanta Schachter, NKCDC deputy director. 

The impact is evident. In addition to the new, green features, NKCDC Executive Director Sandy Salzman said that for the first time in at least 40 years, developers have started to build properties that face Blair Street, a street that was once exclusively used as garage access and littered with trash and debris. 

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