by Nicole Westerman
Across the City of Philadelphia, there are more than 400 parks, playgrounds, rec centers, libraries, pools and other recreational sites. These sites have experienced decades of deferred maintenance and under-investment. As a result, only 10 percent of sites are considered to be in excellent condition, and nearly every site in the parks and library system needs at least some level of improvement, whether it’s a new heating system or a new roof.
Rebuilding Community Infrastructure, or Rebuild, is Mayor Jim Kenney’s seven-year, $500 million public-private partnership to revitalize parks, recreation centers and libraries, empower communities and promote economic opportunity.
Enabling legislation, which would establish the legal structure and authorize $300 million of borrowing for Rebuild, has been introduced in City Council. This is the first step in a long process and once these ordinances are passed, the real work of transforming neighborhoods can begin.
Rebuild has set ambitious goals for diversity and inclusion, community engagement and infrastructure improvements, including revitalizing at least 150 sites city-wide over its lifespan. To accomplish this, each project must be completed efficiently and effectively, in a timely manner and with the input of the community.
Rather than overburdening our capital program with an initiative as large as Rebuild, we believe the best approach is to partner with local nonprofits that have experience managing large construction projects, proven expertise in managing public and grant funds, a commitment to diversity and to supporting community engagement goals, and a vested interest in the long-term success of the site and the neighborhood. Nonprofits will also be able to raise additional funds to support Rebuild projects and programming. These nonprofits would be pre-qualified to apply to improve specific park, rec center, or library sites.
Sites will be selected through a close partnership with City Council. Using the district council members’ intimate knowledge of the communities they serve and the information that has been gathered through our initial planning process, including equity and economic growth data and details on the state of facilities, the administration and City Council will determine a list of sites for the first and second year.
Once those lists are completed, pre-qualified nonprofits will apply to work on specific Rebuild sites. This application process serves as a check on the process – if a nonprofit’s plan doesn’t include community engagement or demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion, the city won’t approve it.
The applications also will outline the contractors, architects, designers, community organizations and other partners that will work with the nonprofit to complete the improvements in partnership with friends groups or Recreation Advisory Councils. Neighborhood residents, City Council, and city departments will be involved throughout the entire process, from grant approval through ribbon cutting.
Lastly, Rebuild is committed deeply to accountability. Rebuild staff and independent monitors will ensure that nonprofits meet the commitments made in their applications. We have outlined a plan for an oversight board, proposed to be a broad coalition of individuals from inside and outside of government, including department heads, Council members, industry experts and community leaders. The board will meet quarterly for public meetings and help increase transparency and monitor progress. Additionally, Rebuild will be monitored by the City Controller’s Office, the Office of the Inspector General, the Chief Integrity Officer and City Council to ensure that every Rebuild dollar is spent appropriately and that every project is meeting quality, efficiency, diversity, and community goals.
We look forward to getting to work on the task at hand – making sure that every Philadelphian has a great park, recreation center or library in their neighborhood, while empowering neighborhood residents and promoting economic opportunity in the process.
Nicole Westerman is executive director of Rebuild, a joint public and private partnership aimed at improving parks, recreation centers, playgrounds, and libraries across the city of Philadelphia.