Upper Darby receives $1 million grant for phase one of new community center

A preliminary rendering of the community center

A preliminary rendering of the community center by the architectural firm Buell Kratzer Powell. (Courtesy of Upper Darby Township)

Upper Darby has received a $1 million grant from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program to fund the first phase of a new community center to serve the state’s sixth-largest municipality.

“We’re just really excited that we got the awards  … This might be one of the first projects that’s purely of this administration, which is really exciting,” Mayor Barbarann Keffer said.

The grant will go toward the feasibility phase of the project, during which the township will work on planning for and design of the prospective new center, as well as gauging community interest and evaluating costs. When construction is eventually completed, the facility will replace an older multipurpose building at 7000 Walnut St. Local officials hope that it will bring revitalization to the area.

“It’s in the Stonehurst neighborhood in Upper Darby, and I think it would be fair to say it’s a traditionally underserved community, and we’re very excited to bring a green roof and a bright, modern, forward-looking facility into that neighborhood,” said Vincent Rongione, Upper Darby’s chief administrative officer. “And we love the idea that it’s accessible to public transportation and in a very walkable neighborhood, and also close to our big business district.”

From after-school tutoring and basketball courts to a yoga studio and supplemental classes, what the facility looks like on the inside will be up to township residents.

“We will be having some community meetings in the next couple months, they’ll be on Zoom, and we’ll probably have some socially distant outdoor meetings on the site, so people can get a feel for it,” Keffer said.

The architecture firm Buell Kratzer Powell was tapped to do an initial design of the project’s exterior. If you take a closer look at the artist’s rendering of the new center, you might notice that the property isn’t very big. Upper Darby officials say that they have a fix for that.

“We’ll be building upwards,” Keffer said. “And taking advantage of the skyline.”

The project has been in the works for quite some time — even before Keffer was elected mayor.

“It’s a project that the mayor has been passionate about since she was first elected to council six years ago,” Rongione said. “And as soon as she was elected mayor, she instructed the staff to start working on it.”

But it’s not the only passion project the mayor has up her sleeve. In the near future, Keffer hopes to announce another local initiative to bring green space to Upper Darby.

“We are working with PECO to secure a lease agreement to begin building a bike and walking trail,” Keffer said.

Upper Darby officials hope to start construction of the new community center by next year, although they acknowledged that things don’t always go as planned.

“I think this time next year we would love to be breaking ground or close to breaking ground. I do think that’s a little bit ambitious, just sort of knowing the way construction projects go and really wanting to get meaningful community input,” Rongione said, “All those things take time, especially during the era of COVID.”

The township aspires to create a new benchmark for community development that attracts the attention of the entire region.

“One of the big goals, in addition to the traditional things that community centers do, is we want to lead by example. We want to set a new standard for development in Upper Darby,” Rongione said. “We want to show other people looking to invest in Upper Darby that these are the kind of amenities and buildings and things that Upper Darby residents want and deserve.”

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