Recreation and Park

New Playground Only Partial Fix for Alice Chalmers Park Problems

One of two final designs for the new playground. Rendering by Groundworks Office.

For many years, Alice Chalmers Park has been known for its cracked basketball courts, dirty bathrooms, rusting fences and the pocked grass in the outfield.

The Outer Mission park and playground often shows up on a list of the city’s worst-maintained parks. This year, it was identified as the worst-maintained park in the city, according to an annual parks maintenance report released by the Controller’s Office.

“Notably, every feature at [Alice Chalmers] scored lower than the corresponding citywide average and in many cases it was much lower,” the report states.

Now, decades since the park has received significant upgrades, Alice Chalmers is getting a series of improvements that are expected to raise the park’s score in years to come. Still, some parks advocates are concerned that Recreation and Park Department’s plan to rent its clubhouse to the YMCA will leave the community gathering space largely inaccessible to the public.

On Saturday, Dec. 16, Groundworks Office, a landscape architecture firm, held a third and final community meeting about the design for a new playground funded by RPD’s Let’sPlaySF Initiative, a program to replace 13 of the city’s failing playgrounds.

“Our goal is to design a fun and innovative playground that doesn’t look like it was dropped from a catalog,” said Brennan Cox, a landscape architect with Groundworks Office.

The project has a total budget of $3 million to design and construct a new playground and fix the bathrooms.

The project is expected to be completed in late 2019, according to RPD.

The new playground isn’t the only improvement lined up for Alice Chalmers.

The basketball and tennis courts were refinished in early December and the grass baseball outfield will be resodded and receive a new irrigation system in 2018.

RPD is in discussions with the YMCA to secure funding to renovate and possibly rent the Alice Chalmers Clubhouse, according to RPD spokesperson Connie Chan.

“The Department is working closely with YMCA to make improvements to Alice Chalmers Clubhouse with the goal to provide affordable childcare for the community,” Chan stated.

But the idea of renting the clubhouse brings back bad memories for some residents.

In 2010, faced with a $12.4 million budget deficit and a shortage of 260 staff, RPD began to rent some of its 42 clubhouses to RPD-selected nonprofits called “Community Partners” in order to save money on staff time and earn money by renting the properties, according to a blog post by RPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg.

“With unlimited resources we would program all of our neighborhood clubhouses (indeed, all of our facilities) twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Ginsburg stated. “Unfortunately, that is not the climate in which we operate and we must make smart choices that best leverage our current staffing and resource constraints.”

Seven years later, Linda D’Avirro, a longtime District 11 parks advocate, said renting the clubhouses failed to bring in much money and reduced the community use of the clubhouses, especially at some of the district’s worst-maintained parks.

While the practice of renting the small spaces seemed like a temporary belt-tightening measure, the practice has lasted at many clubhouses.

“By leasing [Alice Chalmers clubhouse] to the YMCA, it again takes it away from RPD staff who want to offer community programs for everyone and reopen the clubhouse for the general public,” D’Avirro stated.

Although the clubhouses can be reserved online, an RPD document presented to the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Council shows that clubhouses staffed by the department were much more likely to be used for community events than those rented to nonprofits.

Between September 2015 and September 2016, Cayuga and Crocker Amazon, the RPD-run clubhouses, were used for 457 and 276 hours of community access respectively, according to the RPD document.

By comparison, Alice Chalmers, Excelsior and Merced Heights –– the three rented clubhouses in District 11 –– provided little-to-no community access hours throughout the year. The Alice Chalmers and Excelsior clubhouses were used for zero hours by the community, while the Merced Heights clubhouse, which is leased to Youth First for afterschool program, was used for a total 3 hours of community access.

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