"Our young people need somewhere in their community where they can find refuge from the crime and violence."
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As leaders with the Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity stood on the steps of Waterview Recreation Center in the city's Germantown section, they spoke of the need for change in how the city supports its rec centers. It didn't take long for that press conference to draw residents.
"It's never open," one man yelled as he spoke of the rec center that members of the Black Clergy say is in a state of disrepair.
"It was horrific. It was abysmal," said Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity President Rev. Robert Collier, Sr. of the tour he took of the Waterview Recreation Center in April. "Paint peeling, walls needed to be repaired. Equipment needed to be updated. I would not want my children or grandchildren to come here."
Black Clergy members held the press conference on Wednesday to call for Philadelphia Parks & Recreation to provide more resources for recreation centers that are in neighborhoods impacted by gun violence.
"Our young people need somewhere in their community where they can find refuge from the crime and violence," said Collier.
The community group says some recreation centers can present public safety issues, citing incidents where people have done drugs on the grounds of the Waterview Recreation Center. Black Clergy members want to see more staffing, more security and more funding.
"To receive additional funding to be allocated to the Waterview Recreation Center in the amount of $10 million," said Rev. Jeanette Davis.
Money is coming to recreation centers under the Rebuild Program. It provides $300 million to invest in Philadelphia Parks, recreation centers and libraries. The city has 159 operational recreation centers, and seven of them are closed for construction that will include major upgrades. The Rebuild Program also infused $50 million into a project at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park just last week.
But members of the Black Clergy say that money isn't going to the areas that need it most.
"They're going to spend $50 million on a park that is not situated where gun violence is the most active," said Rev. Gregory Holston.
"Particularly in those high crime zones, that's where we need those rec centers to be fully operable," said Collier.
Philadelphia Parks & Recreation issued a statement to 6abc that acknowledges the attention that the Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity is bringing to the issue. The statement, in its entirety, reads:
The City of Philadelphia thanks the Black Clergy for its continued partnership to support stronger communities. We agree with the clergy that city rec centers are vital places that help communities become stronger and give young people a safe place to connect with caring adult role models.
Through the Rebuild program, this administration has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to capital improvements in parks, rec centers, and libraries. In addition, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation is working closely with elected officials to ensure as many resources as possible go to making physical improvements to those rec centers most in need.
Whenever a rec center closes, even for a day, we understand the impact felt by the community. We work hand in hand with community leaders to relocate programs to neighboring sites and continue to support families however possible during closures.
Of the City's 159 recreation centers, just 3 sites are currently closed due to facility needs. At the same time, 8 City recreation centers are closed for construction. 7 of those are slated to undergo transformational improvements through the City's Rebuild program, the residual through Parks & Rec's capital program.
Residents like John Solomon say they've been let down by the city before. They're skeptical of whether actual changes will be made. Waterview Recreation Center, which residents say had its swing set removed two years ago, is not on the list of recreation centers to be improved under the Rebuild Program.
"To me, this is one of the poorest recreation centers in the city," said Solomon, who lives near the Waterview Recreation Center. "I've been to Roxborough, they have an excellent boxing program. They got a gymnastics program."
Members of the Black Clergy did a clean-up at Waterview Recreation Center. They're asking other churches to take similar action and adopt recreation centers in their areas. They say they won't let this issue fade away until the city provides more support for recreation centers in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
"We're going to demand that they make this facility better for our young people," said Collier.