Rec centers have helped generations of Philadelphians grow up. Though their numbers are declining and their funding is drying up, these old-school institutions remain vital to the communities they serve.
Programs: Narcotics Anonymous meetings and classes in computers and fashion design are offered for free. There's also line dancing ($5 a night), basketball leagues ($300 a team depending on age), an after-school program ($30 a month), football and day camps ($20 a week). Martial arts, cheerleading and drill team practice are also held at the center.
Waterview Recreation Center
Location: Rittenhouse and McMahon, Germantown, nestled on a quiet street of row homes.
Background: The old stomping ground of Temple basketball player Wayne Marshall is the second center to get a "sprayground." The sprayground (essentially a playground with a sprinkler system) was erected where the pool used to be. The result is a large, lonely space with a couple of palm trees and squiggly, unclassifiable structures that squirt thin streams of water. Officials say the pool had been dominated by rowdy teenagers who scared away younger kids. The conversion to a sprayground has triggered a backlash in the community. Since no teenager would be caught dead playing in the sprayground, the center now mainly serves kids ages 6 to 12.
Facilities: Two outdoor basketball courts, two playgrounds, an indoor basketball gym, a boxing gym, an exercise gym, a TV room, an auditorium, two baseball diamonds and two meeting rooms. Waterview hasn't aged well. The basketball gym's ceiling tiles are punched out and the paint is peeling. The two playgrounds are covered with lewd graffiti. One of the slides now proclaims, in clear black letters, "Dirty Dick Dave." Although the TV room does have a DVD player, the room reeks of an unidentifiable odor. The boxing gym is the pride of the center. Both police officers and kids train in the space.
Programs: There's an after-school program ($5 a week, $15 a month); fall soccer ($1 to join); classes on modeling, hygiene and etiquette ($1 a week); Boy and Girl Scouts (50 cents a week); a basketball league ($10 a season); boxing ($5 a month for kids, $10 a month for adults); dance ($10 a month, $15 a month for two kids); and martial arts ($10 a month, $15 a month for two kids). Flag football is free.
Carousel House Rec Center
Location: Belmont Avenue and North Concourse Drive, in Fairmount Park near the zoo.
Background: The first government-sponsored facility for the disabled in the U.S., Carousel House serves mentally and physically handicapped children and adults from across the city. The chocolate brown building where most of the programs take place is designed to look like an actual carousel. It's circular with a gray crosshatch enclosing the upper part of the building and beige poles every few yards that extend from the top of the building to the ground. Most programs are free or low-cost, and many who go to the Carousel House get third-party support from various organizations. Carousel House and Magee Rehabilitation Hospital have a longstanding relationship, which involves Carousel House hosting Magee's sports programs (such as quad rugby) and Magee sponsoring Carousel House programs (they co-sponsor wheelchair basketball with the Philadelphia 76ers). Most of the programs are designed either for those with physical disabilities or those with mental disabilities, but there is some mixing due to dual diagnoses.
Facilities: There's an outdoor wheelchair track, a swimming pool with an adjustable floor, an exercise room with wheelchair-accessible equipment ($15 a year), an auditorium, a computer lab, a kitchen, a first aid station and a game room. The facility is set on a 6.4-acre property, although most of the activities take place inside the air-conditioned building. Everything appears to be in tip-top shape, although management was adamant about not letting visitors inside, so not all of the facilities could be evaluated.
Programs: Offerings include ceramics for adults and teens ($100 for 10 weeks, supplies included), arts and crafts ($120 for 32 weeks), a summer wheelchair basketball league ($35 a season), therapeutic music lessons for adults ($50 a year for 30 lessons), movie nights ($1), day camp for boys and girls ages 5 to 21 with mental disabilities ($125 for two weeks) and sports camp for the mentally disabled ($75 for two weeks). Among the free offerings are adult day-trip camp, swimming, an after-school program for the physically disabled, and wheelchair basketball and junior wheelchair basketball (free except for tournaments). There are also time slots on certain days reserved for particular populations. Mondays are for adults with physical disabilities. Tuesdays and Fridays are for young adults with mental disabilities. Wednesdays are for visually impaired adults.
Location: Hartwell and Ardleigh streets in Chestnut Hill. The only sounds to be heard when standing outside the rec center are the intermittent "pock" of tennis balls hitting racquets, the high-pitched squeals of children playing and the soft rustle of very green leaves.
Background: The center's appearance reflects its wealthy surroundings. The building's stone exterior is mansion-like, with its imposing columns and long staircase. A large, lush lawn spotted with picnic tables and trees separates it from the street. Gymnastics seems to be its prized program. A large sign on the gymnasium wall reads, "Water Tower Gymnastics, Training Champions." Over the last six years Water Tower has purchased $51,000 worth of equipment with the money it's earned through its gymnastics camp and regular program.
Facilities: There are two baseball diamonds, one basketball gym, one gymnastics gym, an outdoor basketball court, two playgrounds, six tennis courts, an outdoor hockey rink and a soccer field. The grass is healthy but not overgrown, and the baseball diamonds are field-of-dreams perfect. The lines on the basketball court look freshly painted. Despite the center's opulence, there's still evidence that Water Tower is a city-funded facility (the interior staircase is dingy, and the glass on the trophy cases in the lobby needs cleaning), but the potted plants and brightly colored kids' art make up for those imperfections.
Programs: Offerings include aerobics ($75 for 10 weeks), an after-school program ($25 a week), Biddy Basketball for young kids ($50 for five months), tennis lessons ($60 a family), gymnastics and tumbling ($65 for 10 weeks), tot recreation ($120 a month), day camp ($15 to register one child, $25 a week to register two children, $100 per child per week, $175 per two children per week, $250 per three children per week, including trips), gymnastics camp ($15 registration, $65 a week, but $75 a week after June 1). Karate and volleyball are free. Soccer and baseball are independent of the center.