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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Harrowgate Civic Association's Shannon Farrell-Pakstis
Mayor Jim Kenney and Harrowgate Civic Association's Shannon Farrell-Pakstis talk inside Heitzman Rec's newly-refurbished wood basketball court. Photo: ChatterBlast

“The neighborhood was the driving force,” behind Heitzman Rec’s recent renovation in Harrowgate

The $4.3 million project was unveiled to the excited community on May 4, 2023.

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Before May 4, 2023, it had been 20 years since Erin Farrell remembers seeing functional swing sets at Heitzman Rec Center and Playground in Harrowgate. She was born and raised in the neighborhood and can remember learning to play basketball on its courts and learning to swim in its public pool. 

That day, Rebuild Philadelphia officially unveiled its $4.3 million renovation of the rec center and playground, and yes, the budget did include some new swing sets.

“The neighborhood was the driving force behind this,” Farrell told AL DÍA from the newly refurbished wood basketball court in Heitzman Rec Center. “The neighborhood has been fighting to get this rec center repaired for years.”

In addition to swing sets and refurbished wood court — which was also a favorite new feature of Mayor Jim Kenney — the renovation also included a new multi-purpose playground surface with new slides, climbers and other tactile features for kids to interact with.

The rec center itself also got new windows, doors, a roof restoration, better lighting and security cameras.

The new-look Heitzman Rec Center
The new-look Heitzman Rec Center. Photo: ChatterBlast

All in all, the renovations have created a new beacon of hope for a community that Farrell said often feels “neglected” and “left out” by the city at large. It’s even more special for her because she’s been able to be directly involved in the change as a project manager with Impact Services, one of the collaborating partners on the renovation. Also on the project were Rodriguez Consulting, the OZ Collaborative and Philadelphia Parks and Rec.

Farrell’s favorite part of the new renovation? The new public chess and checkers tables around the side of rec center that Farrell said she’s already seen residents make use of.

“We’re getting to really do something for this community. This is the center. This is where the Harrowgate Civic has all its meetings. This is where all the kids come for their events,” she said. “The epicenter of this neighborhood is Heitzman Rec.”

It was a sentiment shared by Mayor Jim Kenney, who was also on hand to officially unveil and tour the new center on May 4.

“A center like this shows the people in the neighborhood, especially the kids, that they are respected and valued, and that their facilities are Class A just like people that live in the suburbs and more wealthier communities,” he told AL DÍA.

Kira Strong, executive director of Rebuild, also drove home the importance of families in the community now having a place to send their kids without worrying about them.

“Now more than ever, that’s really important to have safe spaces for youth to hang out, and really people of all ages,” she said. “We have adult fitness equipment there, [and] we want to engage families in multi-generational programming.”

Some of that programming is already in the calendar, as Mural Arts Philadelphia is set to add the cherry on top of the rec center by wrapping in a mural set to be unveiled in July or August this Summer. Farrell said it will include another massive unveiling party and also a paint day for kids in the community to meet and learn from the artists.

Outside of that, there’s all the potential in the world for a Summer to remember at Heitzman.

“This place is going to be wild,” said Farrell, “crowded and full of joy.”

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