The community surrounding Samuel Recreation Center received on Wednesday night a long-awaited update about the future of the field.
An hour-long meeting took place via Zoom and was moderated by Aparna Palantino, deputy commissioner of infrastructure and land management for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.
Palantino is in charge of the team of project managers and architects responsible for all capital projects in the park system, including the field at Samuel Rec, 3539 Gaul St., in Port Richmond.
“Today, we want to get your feedback on what’s the most important to the community in terms of what sports you’d like to see, what uses you’d like to see for the field,” she said. “The goal of this project is to provide a new, natural grass, multi-sport athletic field with drainage and appropriate grading.”
Palantino pointed out restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the project significantly and revealed a new timeline, which kicked off with the community feedback meeting.
Designs will be completed and the bid process will begin in the fall, construction permits will be obtained this winter and spring 2021, and construction is projected to start in spring or summer 2021.
The new field is anticipated to be completed by fall 2021.
Palantino noted many factors could impact when the field is finished, from obtaining permits, to the weather, to whether sod or seed is used.
“As soon as that grass is established, we can open this field,” she added.
The city closed the fields in early September 2019 after soil testing revealed elevated levels of lead.
Any level more than 400 parts per million is considered to be an elevated amount of lead per the EPA’s standard.
“There were enough [spots] that we realized that we needed to do a complete field replacement. It wasn’t an isolated area,” Palantino said. “While it was very unfortunate we found lead, the levels weren’t extremely concerning. While they were above the standard of what’s acceptable, they weren’t something phenomenal.”
Palantino reiterated that it “takes ingesting a significant amount of lead to harm the body” and “to date, within the city of Philadelphia, there have been no known cases of lead poisoning due to outdoor exposure.”
The city previously held in-person meetings in October and December to provide updates about the field.
During Wednesday night’s meeting, Palantino presented six potential field configurations.
Those present at the meeting, which included 25 people, emphasized soccer was one of the primary programs important to the community.
Additional input and feedback will be solicited via the Samuel Recreation Center Facebook page.
Designs ranged from a baseball field with two U6 to U8 soccer fields, to one regulation-sized flag football field without a baseball diamond.
The total cost of the project is dependent on the final field design and remediation plan, but it’s estimated the project will run between $500,000 and $750,000, according to Parks and Rec spokeswoman Maita Soukup.
After the presentation, residents were permitted to ask questions.
Councilman Mark Squilla posed the first question, asking about lighting and if cameras would be installed.
New lighting will be installed, and cameras could potentially be installed where possible, according to Palantino.
One resident raised concerns about the field currently being used as a “dog park.”
“Once the field is complete, I think that’s a key message,” Palantino said. “I think it’s important for the community itself to enforce that. We may have to manage access in a way. We don’t want to create this wonderful amenity where kids are playing and folks not cleaning up after their dogs.”
Palantino added signage could be added and it would be a combined effort between community and city staff at the rec.
Another resident asked about the remediation plan, specifically how much dirt would be removed, dust control measures, where work trucks would park, and soil testing after the field was finished.
Jennalee Fede, P.E., environmental project manager at Duffield Associates, the company responsible for the field’s soil testing, provided insight into the remediation process.
“The remediation plan is to take the upper foot of soil off of the entire site within that playing field area. And then we’re going to go through and screen soils throughout the site and figure out if we need to take a second foot.”
“And, then we’ll screen below that, if we go to the second foot and we’ll come back and put in clean fill. So, we’ll have that barrier of at least a foot of PA-certified clean fill on top of the site. So, as long as the grass is maintained on top of the field, there shouldn’t be an issue,” she said.
There will be a full-time dust monitor on site as part of the scope of work, Palantino and Fede confirmed.
The same resident raised concerns about maintenance of the field.
“The city can never fully maintain this and that’s why it’s so important to have a strong friends group,” Squilla said.
Palantino noted a watering system was being considered as part of the design.
“Every bit of help we can get would be much appreciated, and we’ll do our part to take care of this investment,” she added.
Longtime resident Cherri Beck voiced frustration about the length of time the field has been closed and the timeline moving forward.
“We have been closed for an entire year and now you’re telling us it’s probably going to be another year and a half. So, these children have nowhere to go for that amount of time. Mark [Squilla] and Joe [Hohenstein], I know Samuel’s has never been a priority for either one of you, but you need to make it a priority and you need to make sure this is taken care of, you need to push it through,” she said.
“That’s no problem. We’ve got permits to use during this. We have several parks throughout the district we’ve done that have been closed longer than two to three years, and, we’ve always been able to work it out through permits,” Squilla said. “If there’s a concern that it’s not being taken care of, we’ll make sure we get on it.”
“We can try to see if [construction permits] can be moved a little faster through the process. But recognize everyone is facing this. This is not a problem exclusive to Samuel. Everyone’s been stuck because of COVID and the delays. Mark and I will work on seeing if construction permits can get done on a little of a faster timeline,” Hohenstein added.
“We can’t really blame this on COVID because it was closed nine months prior to when COVID started and nothing was done,” Beck said. “So, we need to stop talking and start doing.”
“That’s exactly what’s happening,” Squilla said.
“The other thing we can do is reach out to the other clubs. I can reach out to the Bridesburg Cougars,” Hohenstein said. “Cohox and the other fields in Port Richmond are stretched to the max, but we can ask around at other parks as well.”
Port Richmond resident Renee Bernek shared similar concerns.
“I think it’s frustrating as a parent. My kid plays under the recreation team. They’re the Samuel Falcons, they play for Samuel, and nothing they do takes place at their home field,” she said. “We’re never the home team. We’re here, there and everywhere. Kids from our neighborhood specifically don’t have another facility to go to. There are supposed to be neighborhood playgrounds where these kids can walk to.”
Squilla sympathized with residents.
“We apologize for how long this is taking, and nobody’s happy with it,” Squilla said. “But it is actually going in the right direction and it’s slow and it’s painful. But I have faith it will get there and it will get there sooner rather than later.”
Concerns about the condition of the indoor facility and outdoor playground were also addressed.
While Samuel is not currently on the ReBuild list, officials are hopeful to have those amenities refurbished alongside or shortly after the field project, and are currently exploring funding options.
Palantino concluded the meeting by recognizing the resilience and support of the community.
“I appreciate the time and energy all of you have put in so far. I know it hasn’t been easy,” Palantino said. “We appreciate all you do for the rec center and we know facilities aren’t anything without the people who keep them going. I do know how much people care about this site and how many amazing things happen there.”
For updates on Samuel Recreation Center, visit Samuel Recreation Center (Community Page) Facebook. To provide feedback on the field configurations, visit https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScQrg4VlUpDKvD-hFtGCvBsRYBMRm19XkkRSgAouqA0bkP-qA/viewform