Camden Kroc center to offer families services

This section of the complex will house a 25-yard competition pool at the Kroc Center in Camden.
This section of the complex will house a 25-yard competition pool at the Kroc Center in Camden. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff)
Posted: October 01, 2013

CAMDEN Evette Cordero lives a few blocks north of the massive construction site on Harrison Avenue in Camden. Since November, she's seen the 24-acre campus rise up from landfill to brick walls and skylights. She hears the clangs and groans of construction vehicles throughout the day. But Cordero isn't quite sure what all the commotion is about.

"I've heard so many rumors," She said. "People say pool. I've heard church. I've heard it's going to be a community center, a mall, a library, which would be great for the kids. No one knows."

The rumors, Cordero was surprised to hear, are all true. The Kroc Corps Community Center will be an all-purpose family assistance and recreation center run by the Salvation Army. The $90 million project, which broke ground in November 2012, is a year away from completion, with just $1 million left to raise.

"Our additional funding is on target. The challenges have been minimal," said Joseph Nardi, president of the Salvation Army board of trustees, wearing a hard hat and neon vest during a tour of the grounds last week. "Soon it's going to be a matter of opening and filling the building."

The center is among eight nationwide, including one in Philadelphia, built with a $1.6 billion gift from the late Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc. The money pays for the center's construction and establishes an endowment for operational expenses.

The Salvation Army has raised nearly $10 million in private contributions from Campbell Soup, Subaru, Wells Fargo, and others.

Walk into the main entrance, called Town Center, and the concrete floors and steel beams rising up to a massive skylight ceiling already resemble the skeleton of a grand entryway.

To the left, members will sign in for access to the fitness center, teen and senior centers, two swimming pools, basketball courts, and a rock-climbing wall.

Membership for a family of four is $200 per year. Scholarships will also be available.

"We want everyone who wants to come here to have a place here," said Steve Dixon, business administrator for the Camden Salvation Army.

The second half of the complex comprises a daycare, food pantry, clinic operated by Cooper Hospital, learning center, and lending library. The facility will also have a 250-seat chapel, 200-seat black box theater, and costuming rooms and outdoor soccer and baseball fields, which will be open to Camden youth groups and leagues.

"We really encourage a cradle-to-grave use," Dixon said. "We don't want this to be somewhere where people drop off their kids and leave. It's not just for young people."

The center is just slightly smaller (by about 4,000 feet) than the Philadelphia one. There are no residency requirements to join, and it is expected to be the Salvation Army hub for Camden, Gloucester, Burlington, and Salem Counties. The current Camden center on Haddon Avenue will move.

Some residents expressed concern about what the center monolith could mean for traffic, but most reactions were positive, with hopes it will revitalize the neighborhood.

Warren Dixon, 48, lives two blocks from the center. He grew up in Camden and said bowling alleys and parks were more available to children. "We had places to go to stay out of trouble," he said.

For almost a year, the construction noises have become a part of his day, but Dixon said he didn't mind.

"That's a good sound to hear in Camden," he said, sitting on his porch last week. "That's a hopeful sound."


jterruso@phillynews.com

856-779-3876

@juliaterruso

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