More upgrades in store for Shissler Rec

6.2.2011 Philadelphia, PA USA
Mural Arts Senior Project Manager Shari Hersh (far right) conducts a meeting at Shissler Recreation Center in Kensington to help design a mural for the park and discuss plans for a new child’s spray pool.

Not long ago, Fishtown’s Shissler Recreation Center, at 1300 Blair St., was in sore shape.

A cinder field led to skinned knees for local youth for many, many years and the unpaved parking lot was rutted from years of use, making it difficult to navigate.

Yet, visit today, and the Shissler Rec Center is a sight to behold.

Gone are the cinders, replaced with a lush grassy field. Gone is the muddy, lumpy parking lot, replaced with new asphalt, with a new storm water management system installed to keep the area from flooding.

And, there is yet more in store for Shissler.

As part of the ongoing Big Green Block project, an element of the Sustainable 19125 initiative of the New Kensington Community Development Corp., Shissler will see a new spray park to replace the water features there currently and other added artistic touches.

Representatives from the city’s Mural Arts Program met at Shissler on Thursday, June 2, to discuss the overhaul that will see artistic elements added to the area. According to Beverly Fisher, the Fishtown-based artist who is designing the new features, a new mural will reflect the nature and history of the local community.

“I really want to tap into the history of the neighborhood,” said Fisher. “My interest in the area is that the Delaware River is so close, but it seems so distant because of how the city is built.”

As discussed last week, there will be new features installed at Shissler that will reflect the natural history of Fishtown.

Already in place, a tactile mural has been fitted against the walls. Here, Fisher said, she used the footprints of birds that make their homes along the shores of the Delaware River and the designs taken from the foliage that grows on the riverbanks to design the work.

The designs were then placed low on the wall to allow children to run their fingers along it and feel the imprints on the mural.

“I like using the language of the neighborhood,” she said.

The neighborhood itself is utilized in the recently finished mural on the wall that separates Shissler from the nearby Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

This mural, said Jocelyn Nelson, project coordinator for the Mural Arts Program, was intended to reflect the flow of the Delaware River, while the blocky style of the mural intends to mimic the blocks of Fishtown’s urban environment.

“I think of it as a scale change,” she said. “It’s a change to show our relationship with nature.”

Still ahead for Shissler will be new tiles that Fisher is treating so that it will show patterns when wet. It’s a process she calls “watermarks” and through a process she’s been developing, specific areas of the tile will absorb water when wet in rain or from the splash fountains, while set patterns on the tile will not retain water.

It creates a stark image that can only be seen when the tiles are wet, she said.

“It’s completely hidden when dry,” she said. “But, in a heavy rain, the image is really crisp.”

Along with these new tiles, a set of “pebble benches” — seating areas created from large boulder-like stones — will be created near the splash fountain.

Final plans for the water feature and other elements remaining at Shissler will be presented during a public design review meeting in July, but the placing of the new benches near the parking lot is planned to allow parents to watch their kids when they play nearby.

Shari Hersh, project manager for the Mural Arts Program, said the benches will be created with the help of local high school students. By including area youth, she said, the project allows these students to take ownership of the area and learn about the urban environment.

“It gives the community a way to have a hand on the renovations and that’s really important,” said Hersh.

Throughout the summer, she said, high school students will be doing ongoing work at Shissler. A design review meeting is planned for July.

So far, no date has been set for wrapping up the work.

“We are still quite a ways away,” said Hersh, without giving a prospective completion date.

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com