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William Penn Foundation awards $100M for Philly’s parks, libraries, rec centers

It’s the foundation’s largest grant in history

Philly’s parks, rec centers, and libraries received a big boost this week with the announcement that the William Penn Foundation will provide $100 million to help improve and rebuild the aging public places, some of which haven’t been touched in decades.

It’s the largest grant awarded in the history of the 70-year philanthropic foundation.

The foundation officially made the announcement Monday afternoon at the Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center, one of the many rec centers in the city that will potentially benefit from the donation. It will cover about one-fifth of the total cost of Mayor Jim Kenney’s new $500 million infrastructure program, Rebuild.

Rebuild is a six-year, joint private and public program that aims to improve 400 parks, rec centers, and libraries throughout the city, with a focus on underrepresented or underserved neighborhoods. Many of the public spaces in these areas haven’t been touched or upgraded in multiple decades.

Janet Haas, chair of the foundation's board of directors, told the Inquirer that the decision to award such a staggering sum to the city wasn’t easy. But a visit to a South Philly rec center that was in particularly poor shape helped convince her and the board to invest in the Rebuild program.

The program, which recently hired four staff members, will now be funded in part by the soda tax and the foundation’s $100 million grant. The grant, however, will not be awarded in one lump sum. Nearly $5 million has already been handed out for the planning stages, and when the city’s $300 million bond passes the foundation will deliver another $75 million. The remaining $20 million will be awarded by offering $1 for every $2 raised via other charitable, private, and public donations.

In total, the $100 million is four times bigger than any grant the foundation has awarded. One of its recent significant grants was the $25 million it awarded for the 21st Century Libraries Initiative, which will transform five city libraries. Four of them are already closed for renovations.