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Community meeting held at Monkiewicz Playground to revitalize site

Reclaiming Monkiewicz: Patty-Pat Kozlowski addresses about two dozen residents and staff during a community meeting to discuss forming a friends group at Monkiewicz Recreation Center. MELISSA KOMAR / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

The breaking point for Port Richmond residents occurred when a body was allegedly discovered slumped against the side wall of I-95 in the front field along Richmond Street last weekend.

Social media erupted, and Port Richmond native and Bridesburg resident Patty-Pat Kozlowski sprang into action.

“I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was everyone heard there was a dead body found in the field,” said the former Philadelphia Parks and Rec director of park stewardship.

Kozlowski co-hosted the meeting along with River Wards resident Mark Lavelle, who coaches youth sports and runs sports leagues and tournaments in the area.

The meeting commenced with addressing the recent history of the site and addressing concerns.

Debbie Baldwin, longtime tot rec program director at the rec center, spoke about the unsanitary and unsafe conditions she encounters on a daily basis.

“It’s every single morning. There are so many homeless people sleeping here in the morning. There’s human waste. There are blunt papers laying everywhere. We have needles. We have crack vials,” she said. “I’m here at 7:30 in the morning and make sure the playground is free of human waste and drug paraphernalia. My husband and I do everything we can to clean up and sanitize.”

Kozlowski recalled an incident that occurred during the annual Ladies of Port Richmond walk at the playground in May.

“There was human feces all over near the building, and when the walk started, everyone stepped in it and it was horrible,” she said. “I blew my top because you had 200 women walking through human waste at a breast cancer walk. I think that was the event that got everyone fed up and deciding they didn’t want to come here anymore. And, then Saturday happened.”

Leading up to the meeting, people posted and spoke amongst each other about the “Monkiewicz glory days,” recalling when there were three full-time maintenance staff to upkeep the grounds, and when teenagers were hired to take waiting reservations for the tennis courts from the pay phone, according to Kozlowski.

Kozlowski was quick to defend staff, pointing out the condition of the pool and hockey court were not small jobs, but rather capital projects requiring thousands of dollars.

Part of the problem is the I-95 Revive project, which initially planned to make major changes to the rec center, has not reached that location yet.

“I’ve been hearing for more than a decade PennDOT is coming,” Kozlowski said. “They came to the civic and said we’re going to take part of your playground and it’s going to be unusable.”

After the playground was awarded a hardship grant to improve the playground because of the impending PennDOT project, the grant became void after the project scope changed and any improvements have been stagnant since, according to Kozlowski.

After addressing immediate concerns, which also included locking the gates at night, the focus turned to improvements.

“If we are going to start a friends group to help out the advisory council, one of the best things to do is have special events,” Kozlowski said. “If we have events here, if we have crowds here showing the park is being used, people will want to be involved. Right now, there is no one on our fields and there should be. We should be permitting these fields out.”

According to Baldwin, the rec center already has an advisory council, but those in attendance are hopeful the city will make an exception and allow a friends group to be formed. Typically, parks friends groups are community-led organizations to maintain local parks, not rec centers.

If a friends group is not permitted, the goal is to vastly increase the number of advisory council volunteers.

Jeanine Bruccoleri, who came on as supervisor of the site a few months ago, is eager for ideas and volunteers.

“I did not come here to just be a key to the door,” she said. “I came here to make programs, to have something here, to make the center bigger in the community. If you have any input to help out, I’m willing to work with anyone. That’s what I’m here for, to help and make it better.”

Lavelle hopes to bring a similar atmosphere to Monkiewicz that he experienced growing up, hanging out at Lighthouse Athletic Field, on Erie Avenue.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we had a concession stand right here, operating? That could fully fund your tot program for a year,” he said. “You can have games running right on the field here from 5 to 8 p.m. If you have a concession stand, you can do things like line the fields.”

Lavelle also wants to bring a sports program to the rec center so families don’t have to travel outside the neighborhood to play.

“I want to get the kids out here. We can get it together. I can bring my leagues from Lighthouse here. There are endless possibilities. I think Monkiewicz can be the focal point of every neighborhood,” he said.

Dan Martino, Olde Richmond Civic Assocation vice president, said he would create a Facebook page, Friends of Monkiewicz, so people could easily communicate about future meetings and events.

Ken Paul, president of Port Richmond on Civic and Patrol, said the civic will sponsor the first major event, a proposed trunk-or-treat and Halloween movie night, to kick off the effort to “reclaim” the park.

“That will be the start of everything we start doing here,” he said. “This will be Monkiewicz is starting over. This will be our first big event, and we want the community to come out and be part of it.”

Although Kozlowski organized the initial meeting, she cautioned she could not lead the charge and called on the community to keep the momentum going for “Friends of Monkiewicz.”

“Mark and I called this meeting, but I’m going to be busy until Nov. 6,” said the Republican candidate for state representative, joking. “I’ll give you any support I can, but I can’t be the face of this. We need people to say they’re interested. …I don’t know what other playground there is when you think of the epitome of Port Richmond. That’s what people see from 95. It’s at a major intersection. And, it needs to be better. We need volunteers.”

Updates on the efforts to start at a friends group for Monkiewicz Playground can be found at the “Meet Me at Monk” Facebook event page.

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