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By Lorraine Sanders
By early fall, neighborhood kids heading to Noe Courts park and playground may need to organize a town meeting. On the agenda? Revised sand-eating etiquette, jungle-gym tricks, and tag-you're-it strategy. That's because renovations scheduled to begin this summer are bringing Noe Valley's youngest residents more room to play, as well as new playground equipment, sand, landscaping, and safety improvements.
"It's great news for the neighborhood. The new equipment will be not just for 2- or 3-year-olds, but will be fun for older kids up to 5 or 6," says Laura Norman, co-founder of Friends of Noe Courts, a local group that has raised about $17,000 to help fund park improvements.
Efforts to spiff up the park, bounded by Douglass, Elizabeth, and 24th streets, began more than two years ago after local residents and frequent park users like Norman, dog walker and park advocate Eden Halbert, and others concluded that both the children's play area and surrounding field sorely needed improvements. When District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty visited the park at the Friends of Noe Courts' request, he agreed that something needed to be done.
"It was immediately clear how substandard the children's play area was," Dufty told the Voice recently.
With Dufty behind the cause, Mayor Gavin Newsom agreed to earmark $400,000 of the city's budget for Noe Courts park renovations, planning, and construction. After almost two years of planning, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department began accepting bids this spring.
Two years may sound like a long time, but Dufty says the planning process was a smooth one in comparison to other park renovation projects, thanks in large part to neighborhood residents like Norman and Ilene Osherow, who helped survey park users to determine which improvements were most important and build consensus among those who live near the park and those who use it.
"We really sidestepped any conflict," Dufty adds. "Once we got the planning money, we were off to the races."
On May 17, the city awarded a construction contract to Valletta Construction in the base bid amount of $292,220 for renovation of the children's play area. With the contractor now on board, Recreation and Park Department Project Manager Marvin Yee estimates that construction will begin by mid-July and reach completion by mid-September.
Under the current plans, the children's play area will be extended to the corner of Douglass and 24th streets. New safety fencing will be added to keep kids in the play area and dogs outside it. Along with these improvements, the current surface and sand at the park will be replaced and ramps will be added for disabled access. That will clear the way for new playground equipment.
These changes are a big step, but Norman says the Friends of Noe Courts is already talking about fundraising efforts for phase two of the project.
"We have to find out what the neighborhood would like to see next," she says. Possible future improvements could include tennis court renovations, landscaping projects, adding bathroom facilities, and building a continuous fence around the park perimeter.
While park upgrades are welcome news, Cathy Dompe says the quality of the park is about more than new equipment and renovations. For several years, Dompe has been visiting the park regularly to pull weeds, put down mulch, and clean up after park users. She has worked with the Recreation and Park Department to schedule monthly park cleanup events, but says turnout has been disappointing.
"I don't know what it takes to get people [to attend]," she says, adding that a core group of just 10 to 12 residents would get the job done.
Want to help with the greening? The next Noe Courts park cleanup event is scheduled for Saturday, July 7, from 9 a.m. to noon.
To learn more about how to get involved with Friends of Noe Courts or park cleanup days, contact Laura Norman at email@example.com.