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CHOP to bring new health, rec center to South Philly

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is partnering with the city to bring a new health center, recreation center and library to South Philly.

TIME HAS not been kind to the library, city health center and recreation center at Broad and Morris streets in South Philly.

Each of the properties could be described in less than glowing terms - old, small, rundown, outdated, take your pick.

But the future for the heavily-used site is looking decidedly brighter, thanks to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

CHOP is planning to partner with the city to reimagine the one-block chunk of Broad Street and make it home to a pediatric care center and a completely new playground, library, rec center and health center.

The plan was pitched to local residents at a community meeting yesterday in the basement of Methodist Hospital.

The price tag for the project is not yet known, but city Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz said there's good news for taxpayers: CHOP will be footing the bill, along with donors it hopes to attract.

Schwarz said the partnership came about serendipitously.

The lease on CHOP's pediatric care center at St. Agnes Hospital, a few blocks south of the library, is scheduled to run out soon.

"They were looking to be more community-based, and they were looking for a partner," Schwarz said.

At the same time, the cash-strapped city was mulling ways to maintain the health center, which Schwarz said is one of the city's fastest-growing, along with the library, recreation center and DiSilvestro playground.

CHOP officials said the redeveloped site would be the first of its kind in the country, offering health care for children and adults, a state-of-the-art library and an outdoor area for kids to exercise.

"It's a rare opportunity," Schwarz said, "and a substantial investment for CHOP."

Some residents at the meeting complained that the new facilities would add congestion to the area, as well as dirt and debris during the construction process.

But most seemed to embrace the idea, said Peter Zutter, the president of the South Broad Street Neighborhood Association. "It's an exciting project that's really going to help the community," Zutter said.

Margaret Baldwin, 72, said she was "grateful" CHOP wanted to rebuild the weathered properties.

"I don't know of anyone building something like that in South Philly," she said. "It's wonderful."

Schwarz said the project could begin construction in 2014, and would be finished by the end of 2015.

He added that CHOP officials and the city will continue to factor in neighborhood feedback as they create a rendering of the project and consider other aspects of the site, including possible changes to public transportation.

Plenty of details still have to be ironed out. Schwarz said the city might have to rent space at St. Agnes for the health center while the site is being rebuilt. The library is scheduled to close by the end of the year, and its books will have to be temporarily housed at other locations, too.