ABOVE PHOTO: Police Commissioner Richard Ross and one of his high ranking officers help cut the ribbon to the new beautiful facility.
Officials from city and state government joined dozens of children in the Strawberry Mansion community to celebrate the opening of a new Police Athletic League of Philadelphia (PAL) Center in what was once a public school.
Following a major renovation totaling nearly $1 million, the former L.P. Hill Elementary School – which fell victim to budget-related school closures in 2013 – is now home to the new Strawberry Mansion PAL Center. More than 400 children from the area are already signed up for dozens of academic and athletic programs, including baseball and softball, basketball, gymnastics, chess, math tutoring, and computer education.
City Council President Darrell L. Clarke (D-5th Dist.), who was born and raised in Strawberry Mansion, credited the residents of the area for not ever giving up on their community following the devastating closure of L.P. Hill School.
“Schools are the heart of any neighborhood, and when one closes it tears a hole in the community. Today, thanks to the people of Strawberry Mansion, the Police Athletic League, and private organizations that stepped to the plate, this community is healing,” Clarke said.
“Front-end investments in young people deliver better education and economic outcomes for them, and lower overall crime in Philadelphia. I congratulate the residents of Strawberry Mansion for never giving up on themselves or their futures, and for making this wonderful day a reality. Let’s keep working together to make sure all of our kids get the love and care they deserve.”
“I am excited to announce the installation of a new, state-of-the-art Police Athletic League Center in the Strawberry Mansion section of our city. The addition of this center furthers our overarching goal of strengthening our relationship with the community, by providing a safe place for kids to go and have fun, in a facility which serves as a beacon of hope for the community,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, Jr. said. “I would like to sincerely thank all of the partners who had a hand in helping this dream become a reality. From residents and local businesses, to our police and elected officials, a great many had a hand in helping this project come together. The generosity of all involved will ensure that this center will operate in service to the community for years to come.”
After the closure of L.P. Hill, Clarke began working with the Strawberry Mansion Community Association to find suitable tenants to serve children and adults facing economic challenges. The Police Athletic League quickly committed to opening a new youth center, after which funders including Clarke ($250,000) and the Building Owners and Managers Association ($500,000) ignited the year-long renovation. Generous contributions were also made by the Philadelphia Police Department, Philadelphia Floor Layers Union, the Sixers Youth Foundation, and GEICO.
A health and social services center, NET, has also opened a location in the building to reach Department of Human Services-involved children and families. L.P. Hill is the second former public school building in Clarke’s district that has reopened to provide services to at-risk youth.
Representatives of Strawberry Mansion PAL supporters, as well as Mayor Jim Kenney, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William R. Hite, Jr., and Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Bullock (D- 195th Con. Dist.), also joined Strawberry Mansion residents for the grand opening.
Mayor Kenney said: “It is wonderful to see this building come alive again with the laughter of children who are curious, active, and cherished. I especially want to thank our friends in the private sector — including the Building Owners and Managers Association, the Sixers Youth Foundation, and GEICO — who share our view that the public school funding crisis is a crisis for each and every Philadelphian. Congratulations to everyone who had a hand in making this day possible, and let’s all keep working on solutions to make sure every kid in Philadelphia gets a strong start.”
Superintendent Hite added: “As we begin a new school year the grand opening of the PAL Center is a powerful addition for the children in this community. There are more than 400 children and counting who are already registered for programs ranging from basketball to gymnastics, and from tennis to computer education. We know that when our students have a great place for fun and engaging out-of-school activities they are more likely to excel in school. We really appreciate everyone at PAL, the Police Department, and all others that worked together to make this center a reality.”
“I’m excited to see the transformation that this new PAL Center will bring to our community. PAL provides our youth with great educational, recreational, and social resources, and it brings the opportunity for positive interactions between families and law enforcement,” Rep. Bullock said. “I commend the efforts of community residents, the Office of the Council President, the School District, the Police Department, and all of the generous donors for making it happen. This is the culmination of years of hard work with a unique impact that will enable our communities to thrive. Another proof that working together we can accomplish amazing things.”
“The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Philadelphia has been a part of the Philadelphia business community for more than 100 years. Our members regularly give back to charitable organizations,” Don Haas, BOMA Committee Chair, said. “The Strawberry Mansion PAL Center is one of the largest projects we have ever undertaken, and it is also among the most rewarding.”
Rich McClure, BOMA Committee Chair, continued, “Our members are proud to serve Philadelphia’s kids and teens through the fully renovated Strawberry Mansion PAL Center. We hope generations of kids have the opportunity to play, learn, and develop within these walls.”
PAL Executive Director Ted Qualli called the Strawberry Mansion Center “a celebration of partnerships and perseverance three years in the making. This center has been made possible with the significant help of neighborhood leaders, City government, and the business community, and is a shining example of what can be accomplished when we come together to create opportunity for our children.”