The Department of Parks and Recreation will be a unified department with a unified purpose: to revitalize and invest in the City’s park and recreation systems. The Department will be led by a Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, who will also be responsible for overseeing the Free Library system.
Since 2006 the Free Library has been actively engaged in redesigning various business processes in order to take advantage of new efficiencies, redeploy staff and resources to public service operations. They have combined two divisions and streamlined the ordering and distribution process to get materials to the public faster, resulting in a staff reduction of 30 positions in the Materials Management division. A union-supported audit demonstrated that the General Information Department could be staffed by non librarians, a shift that saved money and provided librarian staff to departments where their skills were in greater demand. The Library’s IT department eliminated professional services contracts and now manages PC upkeep and replacement in-house, saving $900,000.
A new combined Department of Parks and Recreation will improve services for citizens by eliminating duplication of efforts, combining the best practices of both Fairmount Park and the Recreation Department with successful methods used by other urban parks and recreation departments. It will provide better value for every taxpayer dollar by removing inefficiencies and making it easier to attract outside funding.
Fairmount Park is pursuing several opportunities that will improve services for park users and increase revenue to the General Fund. They include food and beverage vending opportunities at heavily used places in the park system, professionally managed parking at selected sites and special events, greater cell phone coverage in remote sections of the park and the sale of high quality organic material such as compost and mulch.
Recreation centers, parks and libraries serve as neighborhood anchors and community gathering points, as well as sites for programming and community activities. They are central to the Administration’s belief that strong families build and sustain strong neighborhoods. No library or recreation facility will close as part of the budget balancing plan.
The Free Library will continue to provide current materials of high interest in a variety of formats for persons of all ages as well as timely, accurate information, and reference services. It will support the educational goals of Philadelphians by providing materials and programs for children, as well as for their parents and caregivers. The Library expects to be a major force in keeping students in school, improving the literacy rate across the City and in closing the “digital divide.” The Library will embrace new technologies from Ebooks to downloadable books, music and videos to multilingual catalogs and web sites and whatever comes next – providing free access to all. The 21st Century library is an active and responsive part of the community and an agent for change, remaining flexible to respond to the needs of Philadelphia and Philadelphians.
Both the Recreation Department and Fairmount Park will continue their work providing programming, high quality facilities and open space. The Recreation Department determined that no center would close, preserving programming and community access and insuring that recreation centers would be available to the children who attend after-school programs. The Department will support structured programming for youth, older adults and disadvantaged populations through After School Programs, Summer Camps, Older Adult Centers, Teen/YAC centers, and Carousel House. It is increasing inspections and maintenance activities to ensure clean and safe facilities throughout the City. With the initiation of a program to clean vents in all facilities, the Department will reduce energy costs.
In FY10 Fairmount Park will continue the preservation, protection and maintenance of the open space, street trees, natural and cultural resources of Philadelphia’s parks for the recreation and enjoyment of residents and visitors. Likewise, the Free Library system managed the impact of its budget reductions to preserve access to LEAP, its after school program, and insure that the reduction in public access to reading materials, computers and Internet access was minimized.
Proceeding with the Park and Recreation merger, two crucial sets of activities will need to be refined: the practice of asset management across the system and creation of a unified plan for seeking funding and resource partners. For the City as a whole, the management of capital and long-term investment in the City’s existing assets needs considerable attention. The processes developed in the Department of Parks and Recreation should be part of this larger government-wide conversation.