Nonprofit steps in to mend park decay 

Nancy Madynski has found everything from used condoms to knives while sifting through playground sand at Mission Dolores Park.

Members of Friends of Dolores Park Playground sift the sand monthly — a volunteer activity aimed at keeping the playground safer and cleaner for children. But the playground’s aging wooden structures and outdated access have earned it a $1.5 million private donation that will allow neighbors, the Neighborhood Parks Council and The City to completely renovate the playground next year.

"One of our girls just pinched her hand in the metal on the jungle gym, and I’m sure you can get splinters from this wood," Evan Kinkel, an afterschool program coordinator with Mercy House, said while sitting on the playground’s distinctive wooden boat. "This park has its issues, but given its history and the views, it’s still worth it."

The Neighborhood Parks Council assigned 30 local parks a "D" or "F" rating on a 2006 report card. Many of them feature aging, rusting structures that leach arsenic and other toxic materials into the sand children play in, according to Isabel Wade, the nonprofit’s executive director.

Over the next two years, 20 of those playgrounds will be rehabilitated to some degree by the Parks Council — with help from neighborhood volunteer labor. Another 10 will be renovated as part of the $185 million bond package approved by voters in February.

The group rebuilt Crocker Amazon Playground in 2002 and Balboa Playground this year — the latter for roughly $600,000, half the cost of city-run renovations, Wade said. Getting neighbors to do the work not only saves money, but makes them feel responsible for the long-term success of a playground, she said.

"In organizing the community, we found that they’re still working to get more done," Wade said. "They feel real ownership of the site now."

The Parks Council is also leading renovations at Franklin Square, which earned an "F" and is not slotted for any bond funds. Between now and 2009, eight other playgrounds will be rehabilitated to some degree, including Hunters Point Recreation Center, South Park, West Sunset Playground and James Rolph Playground.

By 2010, it hopes to address 10 more playgrounds, bringing the worst to at least a "C" level.  Although the Parks Council is pioneering work on many of these parks, it has The City’s encouragement.

"Anytime people mobilize to make changes in their community, and to the extent that it occurs, it’s very good for The City," Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Rose Dennis said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

Playground repairs

» Dolores Park (Mission-Castro)

» Franklin Square (Mission-Potrero)

» Hamilton Recreation Center (Western Addition)

» Hunters Point Recreation Center (Hunters Point-Bayview)

» James Rolph Playground (Mission-Bayview)

» Palega Playground (Portola-Silver Terrace)

» Precita Park (Bernal-Mission)

» South Park (South Park-Rincon)

» St. Mary’s Square (Chinatown)

» West Sunset Playground (Sunset)

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Beth Winegarner

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