City parks and recreation to hire with added funding

Posted: February 16, 2013

The city's aging parks and recreation facilities are going to get a lot more attention starting this spring.

Thanks to a $2.6 million increase in the department's budget, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis plans to hire 63 full-time people, most of them in skilled trades and maintenance.

It's the first such expansion in as long as any one in the department - which receives less funding than parks do in most big cities - can remember.

"Parks have never gotten anything close to this in recent history," DiBerardinis said.

The new hires will increase the number of staffers devoted to changing lightbulbs and doing other basic work crucial to enjoyment of parks and recreation centers, but also to the long-term health of those facilities.

Because of the decades-long tradition of poor funding of parks and recreation, many basic maintenance needs go unmet, allowing small problems such as a leaky roof to turn into big ones.

The money will allow the department to approach maintenance more systematically, DiBerardinis said. With the larger staff, his department will be able to review major systems - heaters, lighting, roofs - every year and spot problems more quickly. The department already does some of that, but DiBerardinis believes his workers will now be able to get to every facility every year.

"You eliminate a lot of running around repairing stuff," he said. "You're upgrading the quality of the system and you're bringing down the work orders, and the other benefit of that is you extend the life cycle of the system."

With the increase in the parks and recreation budget, to nearly $50.5 million for fiscal 2013, DiBerardinis also plans to buy $900,000 in trucks and other vehicles so that the new workers have the necessary equipment.

DiBerardinis also exercised a right in the city contract to shift to a six-day workweek, saving $500,000 that used to be spent paying people overtime for Saturday duties.

The average salary for the new full-time hires will be about $37,000, and the workforce will increase about 10 percent.

Some of the new funds will be spent on 75 additional seasonal workers, a 3 to 5 percent increase over previous years.

The department also will work with City Council President Darrell L. Clarke to identify 10 projects every quarter in each Council district that are in need of capital money. That will mean new roofs, paving, and other improvements for many centers.

Lauren Bornfriend, executive director of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance, which was instrumental in getting the increased funding, praised the choices.

"In the short term, the investment in preventive maintenance will have an immediate impact on local communities," she said. "In the long term, it will save the city an enormous amount of money. This plan leverages increased efficiencies, and we're hopeful that the closer partnership with Council members will result in even more strategic investment."


Contact Miriam Hill at hillmb@phillynews.com or at 215-854-5520. Follow her on Twitter @miriamhill.

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