By luck & pluck, Rec's no wreck
TAKE AWAY a recreation program in a lot of suburban communities, and it's one less option for summer fun. But in Philadelphia, for many parents, neighborhood pools and rec centers are their kids' only alternative to hanging on street corners and connecting with the wrong people.
TAKE AWAY a recreation program in a lot of suburban communities, and it's one less option for summer fun.
But in Philadelphia, for many parents, neighborhood pools and rec centers are their kids' only alternative to hanging on street corners and connecting with the wrong people.
So, city Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson is pleased that her department won't have to fold as many of its operations as it feared six months ago. Forty-six pools will be open by July 2, and scores of day camps will begin on July 6.
"People out there depend on us for these programs," Slawson said this week. "People come up to me and say, 'Where can I send my sons? They're getting just a little bit out of control.' "
If you're counting on city rec programs this summer, there's good news, bad news and some fine print.
The good news: Scores of sites will be open for thousands of kids, and many have really cool offerings.
The bad news: Overall, the system will be pared back from last summer, and will handle between 15 to 20 percent fewer youngsters.
The fine print: If the state Legislature doesn't let Mayor Nutter raise the city sales tax and adjust pension payments, drastic cuts will occur in all city services, including recreation.
Here's a quick look at what the Recreation Department can deliver this summer:
* Day camps - There will be camps from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for kids aged 5 to 12 at 139 sites. That's about the same number of camps as last year, but staffing cuts will mean fewer campers. There's room for about 8,500 kids this summer, down from 10,200 last year.
* Pools - 46 outdoor pools will open. That's far fewer than the 73 that were open last summer, but a big improvement over the 11 that city officials announced several months ago. A private fundraising drive and partial restoration of city funding made the difference.
* Specialty camps - There will be 58 of them for older kids, offering everything from performing arts to golf. That's about the same number as last year, but an advanced swimming program at several pools is gone.
* Playgrounds - 95 sprinklers will be operating for kids at playgrounds without pools, up from about 50 last year.
* Summer jobs - There will be about 575 jobs for teenagers as recreation aides this summer, funded by the nonprofit Philadelphia Youth Network. But that's about 130 fewer than were available last year, when the city also funded those positions.
On the whole, the rec-services picture is far brighter than it appeared in November, when Nutter responded to a sharp downturn in tax revenue by announcing steps including the elimination of seasonal hiring for summer recreation programs.
Without seasonal hires, the summer programs would be a shell of their former selves.
"I think we feel a little better," said Mike McCrea, who volunteers at the Feltonville rec center, on Wyoming Avenue near A Street, and is citywide president of the recreation advisory councils, which provide volunteers and raise money for centers across the city.
"We don't have as many staff as we need to do what we'd like, but it's something we can build on," McCrea said.
Feltonville, which services an ethnically diverse population of blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and whites, offers a summer day camp with field trips to amusement parks and museums.
That's typical of day camps across the city, where the recreation department staffs the camps, and advisory councils and parents augment the program by raising money for trips and equipment.
Feltonville is one of the centers with a pool that was targeted for closing in November, but which now will be open.
"That pool is the linchpin of everything we do," McCrae said. "It's the largest attraction in the neighborhood."
In February, the Recreation Department began a drive to raise $600,000 to keep 30 pools open three days a week. The combination of that fund drive and additional city money allowed the city to expand the number of pools it could open.
But 27 pools that were open last year won't be this year. One of them is at the Lonnie Young rec center, at Chelten Avenue and Ardleigh Street, in Germantown.
"This pool means so much to the kids," said Christa Nesmith, president of the recreation advisory council for the center. "It just broke my heart when I heard [it wouldn't open]. I don't know where these kids will go. I really don't."
Deputy Recreation Commissioner Leo Dignam said that the city had to make some hard decisions on which pools to open, and it tried to take into account geographical balance, usage and the state of repair.
McCrae said that he's concerned that demand for city recreation programs will increase this summer when programs funded through the nonprofit Safe and Sound close down.
One such program, McCrae said, is across the street from the Feltonvile rec center and apparently won't operate a summer camp program that it had last year.
"They had 100 or so kids there, and they'll be looking for places to go," McCrae said. "So, they'll come to my center and others will go to centers across the city."
Much of the money that went to Safe and Sound, which funneled to community and nonprofit organizations, will now be handled by the city's Department of Human Services.
Tom Sheaffer, of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity office, said yesterday that DHS would fund summer programs for about 10,000 kids this year. That's about 3,700 fewer slots than last year, but he said that not all of the available openings were filled last year.
Slawson said that the programs planned for this year depend on favorable action from the state legislature on Mayor Nutter's tax and pension proposals.
Failure in Harrisburg would trigger deep cuts in virtually every city service.
"This would impact every parent, every child," Slawson said. "We would be closing facilities. We would be laying off hundreds and hundreds of people. It would be devastating."
If you want to find out about programs available in your neighborhood, visit the Recreation Department's Web site, www.phila.gov/ recreation
You can also call the city's 3-1-1 information line, or call the department directly at 215-683-3600. *