City's Rebuild program kicks off with revamp of South Philly rec center

Pat Loeb
May 16, 2018 - 5:43 pm

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The long-awaited Rebuild program of city parks, rec centers and libraries is about to get underway. 

City officials announced that the first project will be the heavily-used yet dilapidated Vare recreation center in South Philadelphia — the first step in what is expected to be an ambitious seven-year citywide renovation.

Rebuild is a major part of Mayor Jim Kenney's anti-poverty strategy, not only improving facilities for public use but creating construction jobs in vulnerable communities. 

The elaborate process planned to involve intense community engagement and agreements with unions on hiring, but that got bogged down in City Council.

So last week, Kenney announced that the program will be funded out of the capital budget, freeing up the first $8 million to get the project rolling. 

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Mike DiBerardinis, managing director of the City of Philadelphia and Rebuild board member, said they chose to start with Vare because it's in desperate need of repairs and coincides with the program's other goals: "around equity, around transitional improvement and around improving programs in the center."

Vare had to be closed for six weeks last fall because the 100-year-old building had dangerous structural problems. The program has a new master plan with the hope that work to permanently shore it up can start by the end of the year.

"We don't want to wait," DiBerardinis said. "We think it's important to begin to move within the Rebuild initiative."

The Rebuild program has been held up by two factors: the legal challenge to the sweetened beverage tax, which is needed to pay debt service on a $300 million bond issue, and delays in City Council about the project statement.