Noe Valley Voice July-August 1999

Kids Get to Climb 'DNA' at Douglass Park

By Pat Rose

In September -- thanks to a "squeaky" neighborhood group and a generous equipment manufacturer -- kids will be scrambling up and down state-of-the-art play equipment at Douglass Playground.

Game Time, a major manufacturer based in Alabama, has decided to donate a shiny new $20,000 play structure, featuring such things as a "DNA climber" (shaped like strands of DNA), a tree-scape, double slides, and a series of decks and overhead rings connected by a moving bridge. The company will also toss in an assortment of equipment geared for younger kids, including new swings and play panels that can make a "fort."

At a June 14 meeting at the park's clubhouse at 26th and Douglass streets, kids, parents, and Rec and Park staff pored over glossy magazine photos and marked their favorite colors and styles among the new equipment, scheduled for installation in late August.

They also congratulated themselves, the city, and Game Time for putting at least one neighborhood park on the fast track. "This is the first pilot site to see something happen in a matter of months rather than years," said Joel Robinson, head of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.

Krista Keegan, co-chair of the Noe Valley Neighborhood Parks Improvement Association (NVNPIA), which launched the drive to spruce up Douglass Park almost a year ago, was particularly pleased with the windfall. "We were in the right place at the right time," she said.

The group, led by Noe Valley parent Dorthe Deubler (who, sadly, moved with her family to upstate New York in June) began petitioning Rec and Park last August to replace the old play equipment, which was built in the 1970s and is not up to current safety codes.

"We found out the city had no plans to upgrade the parks," said Keegan. "Everything is done through the 'squeaky wheel' [process] at Rec and Park."

The members of NVNPIA greased their own wheels by barraging Rec and Park with phone calls, holding regular cleanups at the park, and soliciting aid from other park boosters such as Friends of Noe Valley and the Neighborhood Parks Council. The NVNPIA also applied to the Open Space Fund (a division of Rec and Park) and won a $25,000 grant to begin design and renovation of the park.

Meanwhile, Game Time approached the city in April, offering to donate play equipment to help the company showcase its products and to give it an opportunity to train and certify installers in Northern California. The Neighborhood Parks Council decided to award the equipment to Douglass, since the park already had a $25,000 grant that would cover the cost of site preparation and ADA compliance for handicapped access.

"This is wonderful for Douglass Park," said Gaeta Bell of Open Space. "It usually takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate a playground."

At the June meeting, city planner Marvin Yee and Game Time representative Alex Tsitovich showed parents prototypes of the equipment and answered questions about the new plans.

In addition to the main play structure, which is geared to the 5- to 12-year-old set, Tsitovich showed models of the new swings -- two with belts for older kids and two with buckets for the babies and toddlers. (Because of clearance and safety issues, the number of swings at the park has been reduced from seven to four.)

Tsitovich also showed the play equipment planned for the toddlers, which included a fire truck, a new spaceship module, and special play panels with race-car and other activity motifs.

One parent asked whether a roof could be added to the panels to create a fort similar to the one under the present play structure, now a popular spot for toddlers and preschoolers. Another asked about keeping the sand pit that preschoolers and babies currently enjoyed. Tsitovich said the sand pit could surely stay and that it would be easy to create a fort for the tots.

There were also questions about how much maintenance would be required for the new equipment. Tsitovich said Game Time has a toll-free number to call for repairs and that the company keeps all its parts in stock. "The real key to making this equipment last is a maintenance program," he said. By contacting the company whenever a repair is needed, the residents can make the structures last 15 to 20 years, he told the group.

(Dorthe Deubler had earlier told the Voice that when a rep from Game Time visited Douglass Park in May, he saw the old spaceship in the playground and said, "Hey, we made that 40 years ago! It's lasted a pretty long time, hasn't it?")

Other concerns, including a discussion of the color scheme -- some parents preferred more neutral colors to the bright ones presented -- and a request that a merry-go-round similar to the one now at the playground be incorporated into the design, were tabled until a second meeting June 28. Rec and Park said a final decision would be made about all of the equipment at that time.

Douglass Park Director Steve Bell, who runs the Tiny Tots and latchkey programs and has worked with NVNPIA on the drive for new equipment, said he was delighted with the plan. "This is great. Because of the various ages of kids we have up here -- the tots as well as the older latchkey kids -- we need a separate place for each group, because it gets too noisy. Our current equipment is not up to code, and I'm constantly calling maintenance to fix the old metal and to deal with wood that is splintering."

Bell pointed out that the current set of swings for the older children is a safety hazard because it was set up too close to a cement wall. "I know there will be more discussion about colors and other minor details [at the next meeting], but the main concern for me is safety. It's time to have some vision and to make a change."

To jump on the parks bandwagon (or the merry-go-round), call Krista Keegan at 550-9050.