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AIA kicks off its annual conference with a day of service to rehab local rec center

Sharswood's Athletic Recreation Center gets a redo

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is holding its national conference in Philadelphia this week (May 19-21), and on May 18 -- one day before the conference officially opens -- over 100 volunteers will participate in the annual "Blitz Build," a massive one-day rehab of a selected host-city building.
This year, the project will target the Sharswood neighborhood's Athletic Recreation Center, an arts, community and sporting center that serves hundreds of children from low-income families. The building’s brick exterior is in pretty good shape, so the project will focus on five interior areas: the lobby, the arts and crafts center, the kitchen, a performance space and a theater storage space. Renovations will include extensive reorganization, new appliances, painting, new blinds and new flooring.
For the last five years, the Atlanta-based non-profit AEC Cares has made these Blitz Builds possible, supported by AIA, AIA Innovation Partner CMD iSqFt and other stakeholders.
AEC Cares Executive Director and CMD Senior Director of Business Development Laura Marlow says that "everyone from booth staff to executives" participates in the build, which she predicts will draw about 115 volunteers. This includes out-of-towners as well as local groups like PowerCorps PHL.
Marlow begins her search for the AEC Cares build site by reaching out the local mayor’s office, asking for a department that can point towards a high-use community building in need of a makeover. Some cities have offered the expertise of a Department of Community Engagement, for example, but in Philly, she found herself directed to Parks & Rec.
"Initially I thought it was a little odd," she recalls. Marlow expected to work with an agency specializing in something like homelessness. But it turned out to be just the right resource. "Philadelphia Parks and Recreation has been an absolutely phenomenal partner."

The department nominated several City sites in need of work, and facilitated the involvement of the Community Design Collaborative, which sent a volunteer architect to assess the sites.
Built in 1912, the Athletic Recreation Center stood out because "while it has really good bones, it really needs a facelift," Marlow explains.
This winter, a volunteer team of Collaborative architects began designing, and Parks & Rec helped by prepping the site, including a total gut of the existing kitchen, which will be rebuilt in one day by volunteers.
Including pro bono design time, volunteer labor and materials, Marlow estimates that this year’s build will have a value of up to $280,000.
"It’s an emotional endeavor for many of us," she says. "We’re really excited about what we can accomplish."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Laura Marlow, AEC Cares
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