Exciting News!

Breaking Ground on the Johnny Sample Recreation Center

by Fairmount Park Conservancy on September 26, 2023

Last week, Fairmount Park Conservancy joined City officials, Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, Rebuild Philadelphia, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and community members to break ground on renovations to the Johnny Sample (Cobbs Creek) Recreation Center.

The multi-use building, which includes a gymnasium and multipurpose rooms for educational purposes, is getting a facelift through the Rebuild program – a City-wide initiative investing in Philadelphia’s parks, recreation centers, and libraries.

Totaling more than $15 million in investments, the Johnny Sample Recreation Center revitalization will include:

  • Partial demolition of existing building
  • New construction of a two-story addition
  • Renovation of existing basketball gym and sitework (hardscape, landscape)
  • Site and building accessibility: paths from street/parking to pool level, LULA, accessible parking spaces, restrooms for pool and building users
  • New multi-purpose room for large gatherings
  • New flex space for meetings and small group activities
  • New fitness room with new boxing ring, heavy bags, speed bags, jab bags, and athletic flooring
  • New kitchenette
  • New entrance, reception area, lobby with custom millwork
  • New roof, HVAC system, interior lighting, and furniture throughout
  • Refinished basketball gym with new backboards and hoops
  • Landscape beautification: new shrubs, lawn, trees, and native plantings
  • New site lighting, picnic tables, and benches
  • Cobbs Creek Park site signage
  • Percent for Art Bronze Bas Relief Sculpture Conservation and Reinstallation

“Fairmount Park Conservancy is proud to be the Project User for this city-wide initiative at Cobbs Creek Park and lead the transformation of the Johnny Sample Recreation Center,” stated Chief Executive Officer of Fairmount Park Conservancy Maura McCarthy, Ph.D. “With our expertise in capital projects, environmental stewardship, and historic preservation, this is the perfect partnership to fulfill the community’s vision.”

As the project user, Fairmount Park Conservancy was tasked with community engagement, design, and construction of capital improvements for the Johnny Sample Recreation Center. Improvements and renovations to the Cobbs Creek Environmental Center began in 2023 and will be completed this year.

Thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation, Fairmount Park Conservancy partnered with Let’s Go Outdoors to begin the community engagement process in January 2022. Let’s Go Outdoors is an organization that encourages city dwellers, particularly those of color, to explore and enjoy being outside. Founded in 2010 by sisters Keisha and Tarsha Scovens, the organization supports environmental education, family park adventures, and outdoor recreation.

Let’s Go’s Cobbs Creek community engagement campaign started in early 2022 by putting flyers in mailboxes, knocking on doors, talking to SEPTA passengers, establishing email and call lists, and conducting interviews with stakeholders to find out what changes they’d like to see at the existing rec center and environmental center.

Over the course of the past year and a half, the community engagement team connected with over 300 individuals in Cobbs Creek through public meetings, focus groups, interviews, and surveys.

“It felt really good to be able to say to the kids, ‘We want your input on how this building can be improved,’” Keisha says. “They became part of the team.”

Throughout the community engagement process, Fairmount Park Conservancy asked questions about how the community wanted the area to improve, how the improvements would affect their daily lives, and more. The public meetings for the project served as touch points for the design team to learn about existing uses of the building, understand the community priorities for improvements, and verify that the proposed design met community needs.

Photo from the fourth public meeting session on April 5, 2023.

Among the top repeating priorities for improvement were adding greenery, improving accessibility, making the entryway more welcoming and inviting, and improving interior lighting.

The renovation at the Recreation Center will allow the site to be ADA accessible, provide a new outdoor gathering space with seating and greenery, and include a partial demolition and rebuild of the building to upgrade the interior spaces to support a variety of programs.

“When the [recreation center] was renamed in 2019, it was our vision that the name Johnny Sample would serve as a reminder to the children of this neighborhood of their unlimited potential and inspire them to dream big,” said Orlando Rendon, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner. “The renovations that will soon be underway here will further empower that vision. With this project, we’re embarking on a new journey to rejuvenate this beloved space, breathing new life into it and creating a hub of opportunity, health, and joy for all.”

While renovations are underway, Johnny Sample (Cobbs Creek) Recreation Center staff and staff-led programs will be relocated to the Laura Sims Skatehouse at 200 S 63rd Street. Residents can stay up-to-date on Johnny Sample programs at Laura Sims here or call (215) 685-1995.

Groundbreaking photos courtesy of Rebuild Philadelphia.