Set to be one of Rebuild’s largest investments, new Carousel House rec center could take 2 to 4 years

Disability advocates and Parkside neighbors got a timeline from city officials.

Caroline Fitzpatrick, 14, came with her family from Blackwood, NJ to show  support for the Carousel House during a July 2021 protest against its closing

Caroline Fitzpatrick, 14, came with her family from Blackwood, NJ to show support for the Carousel House during a July 2021 protest against its closing

Emily Cohen / WHYY
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It will be two to four years before Philadelphia’s disability community has a dedicated recreation center again, city officials announced at a late October community meeting.

The virtual meeting gathered Carousel House stakeholders — parents, volunteers, and neighbors, plus representatives from the Department Parks and Recreation, the Rebuild program, and other partners — to reveal a timeline for its replacement.

“Your voices, your needs and your ideas are so important as we design this new facility,” said Parks & Rec Commissioner Kathryn Ott-Lovell, telling the meeting’s 70-plus attendees her department is “excited about the potential of a state-of-the-art, fully inclusive recreation center that serves people of all ages and all abilities from across the city and nearby Parkside communities.”

Some details are still unclear, like what the final rec center will look like, what programming will be hosted there, and the project’s budget — though Rebuild spokesperson Ray Smeriglio said it won’t skimp.

“As this project is still in its early phases ahead of design and site assessment, our budget is still under review pending those assessments,” Smeriglio told Billy Penn, adding that he expects the facility to be “one of Rebuild’s largest investments” to date.

Officials laid out the tentative construction schedule and design, which they say will serve both people with disabilities and the general population in the East and West Parkside communities.

Here are the upcoming phases, and how long Rebuild anticipates each will last:

  1. Learning phase (current): 1-3 months
  2. Draft design: 4-6 months
  3. Final design: 3-4 months
  4. Construction drawings and bid: 3-6 months
  5. Construction starts: 12-18 months
  6. New facility opens: 2-4 years

Also announced on Wednesday were the design teams tasked with creating the new Carousel House. Philly-based DIGSAU is taking the lead on the project. The firm is known for revamping the Cecil B. Moore Library playspace and the Pavillion & Children’s Discovery Center at Sister Cities Park in Logan Square.

Architecture and accessibility firm Studio Pacifica, based in Seattle, is also involved. The firm’s past work includes the redesign of educational and civic spaces. It’s led by Karen Braitmayer, who uses a wheelchair.

The Wednesday night meeting gave people a chance to weigh in on the project before it gets off the ground. One of their biggest concerns: With such a lengthy construction process ahead, where will people with disabilities play in the meantime?

“We know we’re out our most accessible space for a few years,” said Samatha Petty, who said her daughter has a disability. “We’re really hoping throughout these few years that we hear about other Rebuild facilities offering accessibility, and get a chance to tour those so we have options.”

Parks & Rec officials said they moved some of the Carousel House programming to Gustine Recreation Center in East Falls.

Several people at the meeting asked that the new recreation center also include space and programming for people who don’t have disabilities but live in the nearby Parkside communities.

Officials seemed open to the feedback. “We are just starting this process, so there’s so much that is still to be determined,” said Amanda Colon-Smith, community engagement director at Rebuild. “We really need your voice in this process.”

Rebuild and Parks & Rec are planning an in-person meeting at Gustine Recreation Center on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. Meantime, some disability rights advocates say they’re holding their breath.

“The commissioner said the right things,” said Mike Martin, treasurer of the Carousel House Advisory Council. “Now will they follow through?”

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