Collingswood engages community in Plan to Play vision for recreational facilities and programs
When it comes to recreational facilities, Collingswood comes “woefully short.”
That is how Mayor James Maley puts it.
The roughly 2.5 square-mile suburb of Philadelphia with a population of 14,000 people continues to draw new residents and has been a haven for developers to invest in. The borough frequently has new developments underway, the mayor explained.
Hence, not “a lot of room, not a lot of dirt” to work with for recreational facilities. And noting a failed school referendum to fund a new football stadium a few years ago, the need for these types of facilities is in high demand.
“We don’t have a lot of empty farmland to turn into a bunch of baseball fields,” he said. “There’s a high school, middle school and five elementary schools. There are so many more activities that people need space for. We have a theater, the Scottish Rite Auditorium, which is a former Mason Hall, and they need some space, too.”
To help the borough are benefits of a PILOT, or payments in lieu of tax, agreements.
“It provides an incentive for the developer by lowering their tax number some and gives incentive for that development and also gives some certainty of taxes going forward,” Maley said. “And then for the borough, we’re able to keep 100 percent of that payment and it doesn’t get shared with the schools and the county.”
Maley said since grant options are limited for recreational facilities, the plan is to take some of the newer developments as they come online and dedicate a significant portion of any PILOT money to go towards the debt service for new recreational facilities.
“Basically, it’s trying to create new money without taking it from taxpayers,” he said.
Plan to Play Community Recreation and Facilities Master Plan
Sandi Kelly has an ambitious goal: Recruit a thousand borough residents to offer their input for an updated vision for Collingswood’s recreational facilities and programs.
“This is a very engaged community,” said Kelly, a borough native and planning consultant for SLK Community Consulting.
Collingswood is a town that’s been under transformation for about the past 20 years and that continues, she said, as the borough attracts new residents and new businesses.
Kelly was employed by Camden County for 20 years before founding SLK Community Consulting, which has a focus on local governments and nonprofits. In 2019, she was honored as the recipient of the Camden County Freedom Medal.
She is using her veteran expertise to gather input on the recreational needs of the various constituencies in the Collingswood community.
The goal for the visioning process, tagged the Plan to Play Community Recreation and Facilities Master Plan, is to “identify gaps in services or facilities” and have a tentative plan by late fall.
But first it’s all about engaging the community where art is vigorously alive, and theater is robust.
The borough invited the community to a project kick off on April 20.
“…We set up stations in a big community center room and people were able to go through the different stations and identify things that are important to them, identify what are the gaps or programming spaces and what are the needs,” Kelly said.
Some fun was built into the process, she said, including different boards and activities.
“One set-up at the open house listed seven priorities and residents had boxes so they could vote with dollar amounts,” Kelly said, explaining each participant got $1,000 and had to figure out how they could spend that money.
“That gets people thinking, ‘OK, we have limited resources so how would we spend the money?’ It kind of makes people think about what their priorities would be.”
Kelly said surveying residents’ opinions is an initiative that reaches into all segments of the community.
“We’re doing direct mail so we’re reaching out to everyone who lives here – youths, seniors, people with disabilities. We have a group we call the Independence Network and we’re doing a special workshop for them,” she added.
In addition to the project kickoff, a series of surveys are available both online and via mail and teams are deployed at town events to encourage people to complete the surveys, she added.
The borough is working with Brandstetter Carrol, an architectural firm headquartered in Lexington, KY, on the design for the park master plan looking at school facilities, parks and existing buildings.
“The high school and middle school have a large area of land behind them,” Kelly said. “Then we have 70-acre Knight Park. We are also situated in the middle of two rather large county parks, River Park and Newton Lake Park.”
Knight Park is owned by a private trust. It is busy, busy, busy!
Collingswood public schools, Little League, soccer – you name it – use it. The borough also holds many of its recreational activities at the park.
The county parks – Cooper River Park has 346 acres, and Newton Lake Park has 103 acres.
“It’s like any smaller town, with a lot of competition for the use of space for different programs,” Kelly said. “That’s kind of what started us thinking about this process and how we could better collaborate, space-plan and just do an overall plan to capture what are all the needs now, today, and what our needs would be looking ahead.”
Kelly noted the town and the county have a good working relationship. They have included county officials as stakeholders in the process “so that if there are activities that are identified in the plan, we could work with the county to possibly utilize some of that space.”
“And we have some public buildings that we’re also looking at because we’re talking about some other types of recreation,” she added, “We have a Collingswood Senior Community Center and there’s some senior programming that’s run out of there and we also have some other community programming.
“We have the Scottish Rite Auditorium, a theater, and our community theater currently presents productions there and we also have a concert series which is produced in a partnership with the county.”
Kelly said a holistic, equitable vision is essential to the process.
“We’re looking at recreation programming [and] space for all ages, all interests and all abilities,” she said.
The community outreach portion of the plan will continue throughout the summer and will wrap up probably in early September and a draft plan is expected to be presented by year-end.
The survey can be accessed, and comments made at the home page collingswood.com.