Kingsessing Recreation Center renovations, one of Rebuild's largest projects, are finally due to start this year

Philadelphia’s Rebuild program will be more visible than ever before this year, with nearly two dozen groundbreakings and over a dozen sites expecting completion, including some of the biggest redesigns.

The effort to improve community rec centers and playgrounds could be considered the signature program of Mayor Jim Kenney, who cited it one of the top priorities for his last year in office.

This kind of Rebuild momentum has been a long time coming.

Years of litigation over Philly’s soda tax, which largely funds the program by by servicing debt for the bond-financed program, meant the program couldn’t operate in earnest until 2019 — just in time for the pandemic to wreak havoc on critical supply chains.

Just now getting out from under some COVID constraints, officials are excited about what they believe is a critical span in the program’s short history.

“[We’re] excited about the progress of Rebuild’s sites projected for 2023 — poised to be our most impactful year yet,” Raymond Smeriglio, Rebuild’s chief of staff, told Billy Penn.

Smeriglio shared details about which sites are projected to begin or wrap up construction this year, though hard dates are far and few in between, given fluctuating markets and schedules that have already been pushed back.

Looking ahead, a good rule of thumb is that construction on any given Rebuild site will typically take 1 to 1.5 years to complete, per officials.

Major projects like the revamp of Cecil B. Moore and Kingsessing rec centers are due to break ground this year, along with dozens of other Parks & Rec facilities, while other large projects are due for ribbon cuttings before the calendar flips.

What’s Rebuild working on in 2023? Here, in alphabetical order, is a look at what to expect.

Scroll down for a map of all the projects.

What’s reopening: Expected ribbon cuttings

Al Pearlman Sports Complex

600 Port Royal Ave.

This Roxborough staple was on the docket of first-year Rebuild projects in 2017, and is now finally completing its makeover. Expect to see the complex’s two baseball fields and sprawling grounds refurbished at some point this year.

Cobbs Creek Nature Playground & Environmental Center

700 Cobbs Creek Pkwy.

Fairmount Park Conservancy is leading this project on the West Philly site, which is described as featuring “meadows, forest area, two creeks, and a wetland.” The revamp entails improvements to the building exterior, and addresses years of internal deferred maintenance.

Disston Recreation Center

4423 Longshore Ave.

This Tacony spot is gearing up for its second round of city-led construction. In 2020, Rebuild finished up outdoor and playground renovations. Now the program is dealing with the rec center itself. Interior redesigns, roof repairs, and a fixed HVAC system, are due to be finished this year.

Fishtown Rec Rink

1202 E. Montgomery Ave.

Rebuild has been touching down all over Fishtown — the initiative’s first completed project opened in 2019, and a freshly renovated pool started service in 2021. Revamping the hockey rink is the last phase in the neighborhood’s schedule.

Fotteral Square

2400 N. 11th St.

Construction on this Fairhill park began last fall, and the first phase of the $3.5 million project is expected to be complete at some point in the summer. Residents have spoken about the importance of the site. “This is a place that used to be a safe haven,” neighbor Reggie Johnson told WHYY News. “I just see a vision of having that again — because the kids deserve it.”

Frank Glavin Playground

2600 E. Westmoreland St.

This West Moreland site could open sometime soon — it’s in the final stretch, with roof repairs already complete and construction ongoing.

Heitzman Recreation Center

3631 Amber St.

Rebuild broke ground at this Harrowgate center just over a year ago. Given the construction period for the typical project, neighbors can hope for a reopening by time the leaves start to turn brown.

John C. Anderson Cultural Center & Wynnefield Library

5301 Overbrook Ave.

Work on the center’s roof and the garden space at the associated library are due to happen this year. Plumbing and flooring improvements are also soon incoming, wrapping Rebuild’s plans for the site.

Rivera Recreation Center & Mann Older Adult Center

3201 N. 5th St.

Work at this Fairhill site took longer than expected, according to projections from community development nonprofit HACE, which manages the project. The $15 million endeavor broke ground in the spring of 2021. Regulation softball, football, and soccer fields will all be opening, plus handball courts and a community garden.

Swoop, Mayor Kenney, Councilmember Johnson and community members help with the groundbreaking at Vare Recreation Center

Vare Recreation Center

2600 Morris St.

This Grays Ferry site has drawn numerous headlines about needing repairs. The building was declared structurally unsound in 2017, and has been operated at roughly half capacity since then. After a joyous groundbreaking last summer, a long list of new features and amenities will be on the way later this year.

Other projects

Several smaller projects are set to wrap up in 2023, including Kingsessing Library, the fields at Murphy Recreation Center, Waterloo Playground, and Ziehler Playground.

What’s getting started: Expected groundbreakings

Barrett Playground & Recreation Center

641 Lindley Ave.

Many North Philly sports teams call this nearly 6-acre plot in Olney home. Its sprawling fields and on-site facility will begin their makeover later this year, in an effort led by the Nicetown CDC.

Cohocksink Recreation Center

2901 Cedar St.

After playing host to Port Richmond’s 175th anniversary last year, this rec center is gearing up for the next phase in its history. Redesigns were initially slated to begin in the latter half of 2022, but will get underway a few months later than planned.

Kingsessing Recreation Center

4901 Kingsessing Ave.

Work on one of the city’s oldest standing rec centers — and one of Rebuild’s largest project sites — is finally set to commence. After delays that sometimes led to programming in rooms without heat, the Southwest Philly site’s 107-year-old building was expected to start renovations in late 2022. Parks & Rec officials say it should kick off this year instead.

Plans include new roofs with retouched masonry, replacements for old or out-of-commission windows, and fresh doors. Interior plans are even more extensive — the budget for Kingsessing tops $20 million. It will be more ADA compliant, with elevators inside and ramps outside. Sports fields and play space on the 8.4 acres will also be refurbished, with the addition of a turf field.

Shepard Recreation Center

5700 Haverford Ave.

This Haddington rec center tragically made headlines as the site of a shooting last August. Helping turn over a new leaf, renovations to the site will cost $12 million dollars, per Councilmember Curtis Jones. They’ll include improvements to the boxing gym, one of the most popular amenities.

Francis Myers Recreation Center

5801 Kingsessing Ave.

Southwest Philly residents got a taste of Rebuild improvements via fresh athletic amenities in 2021, but the rest of the $20 million project is now kicking off. Renovations will include a new gym and lobby, plus some general reorganizing to help facility staff have a better view of different spaces utilized throughout the center. The latest public (but not necessarily final) designs can be found here.

McVeigh Recreation Center

400 E. Ontario St.

This a key community resource in West Kensington has been the site of a wide range of programming, from afterschool education to dance to roller hockey. The center has also played a part in the city’s efforts to keep kids learning through the summer since COVID disrupted education.

Lawncrest Recreation Center

6000 Rising Sun Ave.

At over 17 acres, this Lower Northeast site is among the biggest rec centers in Philly, with a range of amenities — including a library that’s also a separate Rebuild site. The project is in the (at least) $20 million club, and improvements will span across the indoor and outdoor features.

Johnny Sample Recreation Center

280 Cobbs Creek Pkwy.

This rec center, in Cobbs Creek Park, specializes in environmental programming. Its renovations are part of a wider Cobbs Creek Park Rebuild project. Fairmount Park Conservancy notes that improvements in ADA accessibility and the interior are among the changes to come.

Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center

2551 N. 22nd St.

Work on the more than 7 acres of this rec center will be led by Beech Interplex Inc., the nonprofit that has worked to revitalize 26 blocks in the North Central community. The on-site library will also be getting a makeover, with a total cost of at least $15.5 million, per Rebuild documents.

Pelbano Recreation Center

This 10-acre site in Northeast Philly will soon be bustling, with work on new HVAC and security systems due to begin in the coming months. For a time, the site was the most expensive recreation project in Philly history. Now that Rebuild is a reality, consider all the old records moot.

Vernon Park

5800 Germantown Ave.

Original plans for this 8-acre Germantown park had phase 1 construction starting in 2022. A few months later, work on the park’s baseball field will begin. New backstop and sideline fencing is set to be installed, along with fresh benches, bleachers, and lockable equipment boxes.

Other projects getting started in 2023

Smaller (but critical!) sites like playgrounds and libraries are also on the Rebuild to-do list, including Paschalville Library, Richmond Library, Blanche A. Nixon Library, and field refurbishment at Russo Park.

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...