To the Reading Recreation Commission (RRC), the neighborhood surrounding its parks and rec centers is just as important as the spaces themselves. To that end, the RRC and its partners are helping spruce up houses along South 3rd Street, across from Reading’s 3rd and Spruce Recreation Center.
“Aesthetics matter,” explains Daphne E. Klahr, RRC’s executive director. “Seeing homes in disrepair gives a sense of hopelessness to kids and doesn’t instill pride in their neighborhood. We want kids to be connected to their surroundings in a positive way…Burned out lights, doors hanging on hinges, broken windows, falling gutters and broken sidewalks do not lend a positive vibe to a neighborhood block.”
Two years after initial meetings with property owners, facelifts for 26 residences — only one opted out — are nearing completion. Houses are being repainted (in coordinating colors), new railings and porch lights installed, steps and roofs repaired, windows and gutters replaced, and storm doors and windows added. A few homes are getting new front porches. The City of Reading also replaced the lights around the rec center and park to improve safety, and RRC raised the inner canopy of its trees in the park. Next, hopefully, is new sidewalks for the block.
I want our center to be in a neighborhood where people sit out on their porches, decorate for holidays and greet kids by name.Daphne E. Klahr
The façade improvement program is primarily underwritten with funding from the Wyomissing Foundation with each property receiving $2,700 worth of improvements with no match required. The next $1,300 was matched by the Foundation (with a 90/10 ratio for homeowners and 50/50 for landlords). Any costs over $4,000 were the responsibility of the property owners. Other partners include BB&T bank, the City of Reading (which waived all permit fees), Bill Vitale of Designworks Architects, the Berks County Redevelopment Authority, and local contractors.
Klahr estimates the total cost of the upgrades at close to $100,000 with the Wyomissing Foundation picking up around $75,000 and homeowners and donors picking up the rest.
The façade improvement project is modeled on the successful Elm Street initiative across the river in West Reading, which was also supported by the Wyomissing Foundation. Andy Moletress, who helped with the Elm Street project, is the S. 3rd Street project coordinator. The RRC serves as the property owners’ point of contact.
The block-long fix-up is part of the Foundation’s South of Penn Taskforce, which is focused on overall neighborhood improvement via economic development, recreation opportunities for youth and residents, cultural events, and neighborhood cleanups. The group is comprised of local organizations, nonprofits, colleges and business leaders.
“I want our kids to know their neighbors,” says Klahr. “These are the people that will look out for them when they are walking home. I want our center to be in a neighborhood where people sit out on their porches, decorate for holidays and greet kids by name. Streets, sidewalks, and the neighborhood are really the entrance to our rec center and park – the pretty envelope that holds something special inside.”
For more on the recreation in Reading, check out this 2018 feature, “Playing for Keeps.”
ELISE VIDER is news editor of Keystone Edge.