Kroc Community Center Opens in Camden

The Salvation Army's Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center opens in Camden.

By Michael Hill

What a treat awaiting the kids and families in Camden and South Jersey.

An 11,000-square-foot indoor water park and a huge pool for play and competitive sports with a scoreboard, bleachers and a press box.

Major Paul Cain says Camdenites have been stopping in by the hundreds, including three little boys he greeted outside.

“They said, ‘Well when are you open?’ I said, ‘Next week.’ He said, ‘You guys got a pool?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and then he said, ‘Is it bigger than our pool?’ I don’t know if you can see it,” said Cain, who is the administrator for the Kroc Center.

Major Cain invited them in to see what became of this former landfill that the state DEP spent $26 million to clean up.

“This is one of those places to showcase to the state of New Jersey on how we remediate sites in New Jersey, brown field sites, and how we bring them back to life for the communities overall,” said NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin.

In 2005, the planning began for the Salvation Army’s Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center. With $59 million from Joan Kroc’s estate and $10 million more from private donors,they broke ground here in 2010 for this 24-acre, 120,000-square-foot building.

It’s estimated that 10,000 people live with a 15-minute walk of the center. It’s estimated another million live within a 15-minute drive. To make that all have access to it, the city will put a bus stop in front of the center.

The Kroc Center offers $25 memberships to a family of four with access to a chapel, a Cooper University Medical Clinic, a Subaru food pantry, a Campbell’s Soup Café and kitchen, a library and music room.

“When we work with students, when we work with adults, we are building people,” said Kroc Center Visual and Performing Arts Manager Evan Figueras.

A rock-climbing wall, a black box theater.

“Where we hope more than anything to build the confidence of youth in the city and in our communities,” said Kroc Center Theater Coordinator Robert Weaver.

An NCAA size gym for basketball and volleyball.

Architect Keith Peacock designed the energy-efficient center and says the un-fenced basketball courts out front send an unmistakeable message.

“We wanted to be open and feel open to the community. So to do that, well, basketball courts, have a pick up game at midnight if you want,” Peacock said.

Assemblyman Angel Fuentes tried out the recumbent bike on this sneak peak day and offered one word to describe the Kroc Center: “Amazing!”

This is one of 26 Kroc Centers in America. And Mayor Dana Redd is grateful.

“This was not a dream deferred but a dream realized in the city of Camden,” she said.

The Kroc Center officially opens Saturday. Let the fun begin.