Great things happening at Vare Rec

Mayor Jim Kenney receives a thank you from Rebuild during a hard hat tour of the nearly completed Vare Recreation Center. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

On a chilly December afternoon, community members and Rebuild Philadelphia officials sent a warm “thank you” to the main supporters of a South Philly project.

Mayor Jim Kenney hosted a hard hat construction tour of the Vare Recreation Center in Point Breeze, which is undergoing a $21 million project, which includes significant renovations to both the interior and exterior parts of the popular community gathering point.

“It feels like a monumental day to us because we really wanted to take this opportunity during this walkthrough to say thank you to Mayor Kenney for the vision and the driving energy to push this really bold vision for Rebuild through,” said Kira Strong, executive director of Rebuild. “We know that Vare here in South Philly is near and dear to his heart.”

Work began on the project in June 2022 and is nearing completion. It comes as a $21 million investment funded in part by the city’s beverage tax, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Make the World Better Foundation, the state Department of Community and Economic Development, the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL Foundation. Vare Recreation Center is one of Rebuild’s largest projects to date. There are currently 17 Rebuild projects under construction and 17 that have been completed, representing more than $100 million in active construction, according to Strong. She said 60 percent of those funds were committed to diverse- and women-owned businesses.

“That is really something that we are proud of,” Strong said. “Our team, the mayor and City Council saw the vision in that and the teams we work see as something really important in Rebuild.”

A picture shows what the gymnastics room will eventually look like when the Vare Recreation Center opens in 2024. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

The old recreation center has been demolished and in its place is a brand new 18,700-square-foot facility, which houses a 7,000-square-foot indoor basketball gymnasium with bleachers, a 4,900-square-foot gymnastics gym with new athletic equipment, a 900-square-foot multipurpose room that can be converted into two classrooms and additional multipurpose space for community programming.

The outside is still under heavy construction, but will eventually host two new outdoor basketball courts with custom seating, a 1,500-square-foot outdoor classroom and a brand new synthetic turf field funded in part by the National Football League’s Grassroots program through LISC and the Philadelphia Eagles, which will be utilized by the South Philly Sharks youth football program.

There will be a new spray ground, a 6,000-square-foot playground, new exterior lighting as well as the planting of new trees and landscaping.

The turf field will be lined for both football and soccer with movable goals for players of all ages. The playground will be in two sections for kids 2-5 and 5-12. 

Rebuild Executive Director Kira Strong gives remarks as Mayor Jim Kenney looks on. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“That’s just a flavor of what’s going to happen here at Vare,”  said Angela Dixon, Deputy Director of Design & Construction, Rebuild. “A lot of great things are going to be able to happen simultaneously in a really safe and fun way.”

The plans for Vare’s design received significant input from residents in Point Breeze. 

“We would go out to (Delaplaine) McDaniel School and local neighborhoods just to make sure that Vare stays Vare,” said Yasmeen Abbott, president of the Vare Advisory Council. “One of the things we love and appreciate about Rebuild is we were completely part of the process from the beginning announcement that Vare would be a part of Rebuild. These aren’t dungeons. They are safe havens and places for our kids and community members to come to, so it should feel that way. It should feel like home. It should feel safe.”

In the past, Vare has produced championship gymnastics and football programs that have received national recognition. It’s also been a place to keep young children productive and out of danger.

“When you want to talk about minimizing violence in the community, you have to start with the rec centers,” Abbott said. “These are the safe havens and the places where the kids with those skills that you might not be able to show at school, but can show at a rec center. Understand that it takes a village and this is part of the village.”