PWD to put Venice Island project out to bid this week

The Philadelphia Water Department says a project to remake the Venice Island Recreation Center in Manayunk, which will cost $45 million, has reached a milestone.

Spokeswoman Joanne Dahme reports that it will go to bid this week.

The project will include the construction of a brand new, 250-seat performing arts auditorium, a multi-purpose recreation building and a spray ground.  In addition, the hockey and basketball courts will be replaced, along with the playground and parking lot.

The pool currently on Venice Island, which the city closed, will not be replaced. Tom Dignam, a program coordinator at the Department of Parks & Recreation, says it is a “really bad place” for a pool, and floods often.

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There will be more than 25,000 square feet of landscaped green space, which is intended to provide stormwater management, and the lot will include 195 parking spaces. The project is a collaboration between the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), Parks & Recreation and the Manayunk Development Corporation.

Dignam says that the recreation center will be “the only one of its kind in the city,” with two large, multi-purpose rooms, which will be used for after-school programs, festivals, summer camp, community meetings and other activities.

Kay Sykora, director of the Manayunk Development Corporation’s Schuylkill Project, says the community has long wanted a performing arts center.

“There are actually a small number of theater groups in this area,” she says, “and it’s hard for them to find space to perform.”

She also says that a “top-notch” performing arts and dance program that is housed in the Parks & Recreation Department, which her niece has participated in, will be able to make use of the auditorium.

PWD’s project also includes the installation of an underground water-storage tank on the site, which will prevent sewage and stormwater from mixing. Now, when there are heavy storms, sewage often overflows into the Schuylkill River.

“The whole purpose is to provide the extra capacity we need in the system during big rains,” says Dahme.

PWD says this project will change the course of the flow from the sewer, which is along the Manayunk Canal, into the storage tank during these storms.

Dahme says that construction will begin during the late summer or early fall. Dignam says that once shovels hit the ground, the project will take two to three years.

The project’s past time line raises questions about when the construction will actually begin, however. According to PWD documents obtained by PlanPhilly, the city was anticipating to begin construction for the project at least as far back as 2005. A Roxborough Review article from 2009 said it was to begin that fall. Dahme also told PlanPhilly in February that the project was supposed to go to bid then, but now says it will go to bid this week.

As the project’s been pushed back, some parts of the playground have fallen into disrepair: There was a large hole in the basketball court’s fence during a recent visit and empty beer cans can often be found scattered throughout the playground. 

When asked why there have been several delays, Dahme says they were a result of several things — revising the plans based on community input, dealing with the state permitting process, and in regards to the most recent holdup, a Procurement Department delay of putting contracts out to a bid.

“This last delay is not unusual depending on the volume of contracts that need to be let out by the city,” she says.

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