Philadelphia, PA

"Rally to Save Carousel House" is scheduled for Saturday

Nick Fiorellini

After years of ignoring requests for repairs by management, city officials want to tear the Carousel House down. A rally planned for Saturday hopes to change that outcome.

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The 19th annual Katie Kirlin Junior Wheelchair Basketball Tournament took place at Carousel House in 2017.Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation

PHILADELPHIA, PA — On April 13, the Carousel House Advisory Council logged on to a Zoom call with the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation. It was here when Kathryn Ott Lovell dropped what Tamar Riley, President of the Advisory Council, said was a “bombshell.” Without any prior notice or warning, the city decided to close the Carousel House, which is the country's only city-funded recreation center for people with disabilities, because of damage to the building's roof and structure.

Riley and the rest of the Advisory Council were aware of the repairs Carousel House needed. For the past decade, they made countless service requests to the city asking for help to prevent smaller issues from becoming larger ones. They were ignored.

“Now there's some serious leaking in the building when it rains, especially in the kitchen area,” Riley tells NewsBreak.

That’s why advocates organized “Rally to Save Carousel House”, which is scheduled to take place on Saturday at the recreation center from 11am - 12:30pm, to voice why they believe demolition of the current building is unnecessary and demand the city repairs the current structure. Organizers of the rally have also created a petition, which was delivered to City Hall last Friday, that has nearly 3,000 signatures.

When the story first broke, a city spokesperson told Billy Penn that Parks and Recreation is only able to respond to maintenance requests that don’t require capital investment, and that the majority of the requests the Advisory Council submitted fell into that category.

Nothing is yet set in stone, but the Advisory Council was told by the city during their April Zoom call that the rebuilding process would take anywhere from two years to thirty-six months. Responding to the public backlash of the news, Ott Lovell wrote a piece for Billy Penn explaining the city’s decision — and their commitment to build back the center in collaboration with national experts like Carousel Connections, Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, and the Jefferson Center for Neurodiversity. She also wrote that these plans will be released this summer.

According to Riley, there are still no updates from the city a month later. However, Riley, her colleagues on the Advisory Council, and other advocates still mantain the demolition isn’t necessary, that the repairs can and should be made by the city.

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The Carousel House, as seen on Google Street View. The picture was captured this year.Google Maps

“The [Carousel House] building is only 34 years old,” Riley says. “Compared to the other 170 recreational centers in the city, many of which are close to a hundred years old, the building is in wonderful condition — fully accessible for people with wheelchairs, a safe haven for the intellectually disabled population, ample parking, and located centrally within Philadelphia.”

Regardless of when the Carousel House is reopened or rebuilt, advocates say the changes need to happen sooner rather than later. Before its closure, the Carousel House held several summer camp programs for young and older adults with disabilities, and the city assured the Advisory Council that they will look into reopening those programs during the summer. They have not reopened because, according to Riley, the city told her there wasn’t enough interest.

However, Riley, whose son has attended these summer programs for a decade and a half, and other parents of children who previously participated in these programs tell NewsBreak they were never contacted by the city.

Riley wants to know: “Who did they call? And what does this mean for future programs in the fall?”

The rally hopes to find answers to these questions. Councilmember Cindy Bass, various social service organizations that utilize the recreation center, wheelchair users, and those living with intellectual disabilities will be among the people to speak about the Carousel House needing to be immediately repaired and reopened.

“We just hope that the city will counter our request to repair and reopen the Carousel House. We're dealing with a vulnerable population. They have no place to go,” says Riley.

UPDATE: Officials confirmed demolition of Carousel House, but promised all programs will return to original site.

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Nick Fiorellini is a freelancer writer from the Philadelphia area.

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