Rendering of improvements to Marian Anderson Rec Center pool.

The City of Philadelphia is in the process of funding renovations for some of its public spaces, but one group of neighbors is using crowdfunding to take matters into their own hands.

Graduate Hospital neighbors are working to raise thousands of dollars to make improvements by this summer to the public pool at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center at 17th and Catharine, and a GoFundMe page set up Thursday has already eclipsed $7,000 raised. That’s in addition to $6,000 pledged by the South of South Neighborhood Association.

“I’m going to start crying again,” Lauren Summers, who is leading the effort, told Billy Penn Friday morning as donations poured in from dozens of contributors. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

Summers, a University of Pennsylvania employee who bought her home near the rec center eight years ago and created a Friends of Marian Anderson Recreation Center group, said she was inspired by last year’s “pop-up pools” project led by the city. That effort, dubbed “Swim Philly,” provided a colorful facelift for a handful of Philly public pools that were outfitted with beach chairs, new paint, planters and other welcoming features.

“This year,” Summers said, “I didn’t want to wait. I said, ‘we can do this ourselves.’”

The pool at Marian Anderson Recreation Center. Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Summers

So earlier this year, Summers went to the Facebook page for Friends of MARC to garner support and developed a budget for the ideal improvements. Her priorities include adding a wooden shower to replace what she described as “a pipe that sprays you down,” constructing a deck space and rehabbing a “cage-like” gate. Nicole Buchholz, another neighbor, created renderings (above) of what the pool could become.

And Summers put together the budget:

  • Shower: $1,000
  • Concrete paint (benches): $200
  • Shower head: $200
  • Chain-link fence paint: $100
  • Paint supplies: $100
  • Wooden loungers: $900
  • Deck: $3,000
  • Tables + chairs for deck: $1,000
  • Umbrellas for deck: $900
  • 3 planters for deck: $450
  • 4 planters for game area: $600
  • 2 benches for game area: $600
  • Outdoor rug: $300
  • Outdoor games: $250
  • Palms: $120
  • Palm planters: $80
  • Sun sails: $100
  • Signage: $400
  • Improvements to lifeguard workspaces: $400
  • Events: $720
  • Plants: $500
  • Soil: $80

Total: $12,000.

In April, Summers discussed funding with SOSNA, the neighborhood organization that ultimately decided it would help fund the project. Kevin Brown, SOSNA’s board chair, said Friday that the group decided it would support the effort because it essentially wanted to provide “seed funding” to get it off the ground.

“It’s a space that needs some TLC, some life and color both for new residents and those who have been here a long time,” he said. “Everyone can benefit.”

Marian Anderson Recreation Center at 17th and Catharine Credit: Cassie Owens/Billy Penn

After SOSNA’s recent pledge, Summers created a GoFundMe page on Thursday — her first campaign on the crowdfunding website — with a goal of matching the $6,000 pledge from SOSNA. In 24 hours, the campaign started trending and amassed more than $5,000 from more than 70 backers.

By Friday afternoon, Summers updated the page and increased the goal to $10,000. That extra $4,000 will create a full-time summer pool position for “a young local resident.” This will essentially be an additional lifeguard position/ pool operations assistant who will enforce rules and maintain the pool improvements.

Dozens of volunteers will come together in mid-June to do the painting, furniture assembly and planting so it’s finished just before the pool’s set to open. Summers — who has worked with the director of the rec center — is also working to partner with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, but she said she hasn’t heard back regarding support for the project. A Parks and Rec representative didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Summers said she’s shocked at the way the GoFundMe spread and the support it garnered. And she believes the project will improve not only the pool, but the community, too.

“If we can boost the whole environment visually of the place,” Summers said, “it will create a more open atmosphere… and bring the neighborhood more together.”

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.