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Winchester Park opposes park playground

Winchester Park residents seem united.

They oppose a proposed playground in the “Little City” portion of Pennypack Park, near the entrance on the south side of Rhawn Street, east of Holmehurst Avenue.

“Shut it down. We don’t want it,” resident Jim McCaffrey said at a recent meeting, as neighbors applauded.

McCaffrey said Mayor Cherelle Parker wouldn’t want a park playground in her neighborhood, adding that she could kill the Pennypack playground plan “by midnight tonight.”

Residents crowded St. Jerome parish hall to hear a presentation by two representatives of the city Department of Parks and Recreation, who said Pennypack Park Universal Playground is out to bid.

But neighbors said they were never told of the plan.

“We never asked for it,” one woman said.

Several aides to City Councilman Mike Driscoll were in attendance.

“We inherited this project from our predecessor,” said Tom Forkin, Driscoll’s chief of staff, referring to Bobby Henon.

City officials said there were two virtual meetings on the playground during the pandemic.

Forkin said Driscoll supports the playground, which is being funded by state grants and the William Penn Foundation.

New York-based architectural firm Marvel is handling the design.

Parks and Rec staff said the playground will sit on less than 1 acre. There will be separate play areas for ages 2-5 and 5-12. Play equipment will include swings, sliding boards, a seesaw, a wooden climber, a merry-go-round and a cooling mister. The playground will also include seating, fencing, a water fountain, picnic tables and trees. It will be locked at night.

Staff said children with disabilities will be able to use the equipment, likening the playground to the one at Verree and Susquehanna roads in Fox Chase.

Carmen Galone, who has a special-needs daughter, and others said residents would not be opposed to a playground dedicated just to special-needs kids.

One woman said the playground will become a “Disneyland of riff raff.” She said special-needs kids have sensory issues and shouldn’t be around other young people “acting like animals.”

One man said there is no need for another playground, as there are ones nearby at Abraham Lincoln and across the street from Father Judge.

One woman challenged the Parks and Rec staff to walk to the park to see the homeless people living there. Chris Hanejko, community relations officer in the 8th Police District (the playground site is just within the boundaries of the 15th), confirmed there are homeless in the park and suggested the playground be built somewhere near Pine Road.

Joe Picozzi, the Republican candidate in the 5th Senatorial District, worried that homeless dislodged from Kensington will make their way to the Northeast and its parks. If elected, he said, “I will not let this happen to our neighborhood.”

Other concerns included a lack of park rangers; the secluded space making it hard for police to access; drug users, hookers and other rulebreakers already in the park; the possibility of older teens from Lincoln using the equipment; and a general decline in quality of life. One woman said Winchester Park and Somerton are the only nice neighborhoods remaining, and she wants to keep it that way.

“They ruined Solly Avenue,” one man said of the out-of-towners who frequent the park area near Frankford and Solly avenues.

In response to questions from residents, Forkin said he’ll have an update on the proposal “as soon as possible.” ••

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