The 100-year-old Grays Ferry building needs major overhaul, city says
By Bill Gelman
Take a stroll by Vare Recreation Center, and it’s hard not to notice that there is something seriously wrong. The yellow caution tape hanging behind the new fence sends a clear message for children and adults to keep out. The words “RECREATION BUILDING CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE” have created a sudden void in the Grays Ferry neighborhood, but this is a 100-year-old building that is in desperate need of some TLC.
The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department announced earlier this month that Vare Recreation Center, 2600 Morris St., will be closed for the foreseeable future due to serious concerns about the structural integrity of the building.
The department made the decision to close the facility after receiving information about the compromised integrity of the building from a structural engineering firm hired by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to evaluate the facility. Vare’s outdoor spaces, including the playground and ball fields, will remain open and accessible, and continue to be permitted by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation staff.
“The extensive capital improvement needs at Vare Recreation Center underscore the immediate need for Rebuild. Vare is one of our city’s most active recreation centers and a critical resource in an extremely underserved community,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “Through Rebuild, we will be addressing decades of under-investment in our parks, recreation centers and libraries. Instead of being forced to deal with situations like Vare, our neighborhoods will have thriving facilities that will serve Philadelphians for generations to come.”
Vare was the hot topic of conversation at last night’s update meeting, which started after press time, held at St. John Neumann Place, 2600 Moore St., — the former site of St. John Neumann High School. 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell, Rebuild program staff and community stakeholders were all scheduled to attend and discuss the future of Vare under Rebuild, as well as the plans to continue community programs during the transitional period.
Vare is a home away from home for Tyrique Glasgow, who grew up playing basketball on the outdoor courts. These days, the former South Philly Review Difference Maker provides more than 200 children from the Grays Ferry community and beyond with mentoring and programs as an outlet to stay out of trouble. Like the children, he learned about Vare’s fate earlier this month.
“It’s a little disheartening for the kids because it’s more than a rec center. It’s a place they can come every day,” he said. “It’s a neutral ground.”
Several of Vare’s programs are being relocated to alternative sites within the Parks and Recreation system. The gymnastics program, which has 115 girls registered, has been moved between Murphy Rec, Fourth and Shunk streets, DiSilvestro Playground, 1701 S. 15th St., Kendrick and Temple. The after-school program (35 kids), arts and crafts (10 to 12 kids a week), anger management, cooking and nutrition (15–20 kids) and video game club (10–15 kids on Thursday and Friday nights) are some of the activities being moved to nearby Smith, 2100 S. 24th St.
Vare, which sits on 3.6 acres, includes a pool, sports field, two ballfields and two basketball courts — all but the pool remain open as they are not impacted by the structural issue. The Sigma Sharks youth football organization is still using the football field 6 to 8 p.m. every night. The adult rugby league continues on Tuesday nights from 8 to 10 p.m. while the adult soccer league is still playing games 8 a.m. to noon on Sundays.
In terms of the Young Chances Foundation activities, the 30 children participating in dance, drumming and mentoring program will move to Wharton Square, 23rd and Wharton streets, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The Cool World chess club, which has approximately 12 children, will relocate to the Wilson Park Senior Center, 2500 Jackson St., on Saturday mornings.
Vare has also been home to the Young Chances summer camp, which services more than 150 children. It started out as a free program, but is now $80 for the summer, and includes trips and community service projects. The organization also has access to its community engagement center at 2703 Tasker St.
“We are going to try and duplicate what Vare had, but on a smaller scale,” Glasgow said. “It still hurts the volunteers and the kids doing the programs, but the engineer came out and said that it’s not safe.”