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By Corrie M. Anders
The renovations are a year late and a half-million over budget. But Noe Valley residents will be wearing grins and, hopefully, new sneakers when their "field of dreams"--Upper Noe Recreation Center--finally reopens this month.
The park, which has been closed for two years, has been remodeled with a mix of indoor and outdoor improvements guaranteed to please sports lovers, dog owners, civic groups, and kids from toddlers to teens.
"The facility is beautiful," says Supervisor Bevan Dufty. "I know there has been a lot of disappointment about the delays, but I'd have to say this is really topnotch."
The city's Recreation and Park Department began allowing dogs to romp inside a fenced enclosure at the back of the park in late July. However, the official reopening of the playground, dog run, and rec center is set for Saturday, Sept. 6, when Dufty cuts a ceremonial ribbon and kicks off three hours of festivities featuring music and refreshments.
The 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. party is sponsored by Rec and Park in conjunction with Friends of Noe Valley Recreation Center, a neighborhood group that held fundraisers to help finance an assortment of extras for the facility.
"It's the only rec center in the city with so many [services]," says Alexandra Torre, a Sanchez Street parent and a leader in the Friends' fundraising drive.
The rec center and park complex takes up nearly an entire city block, extending from Sanchez Street along Day and 30th streets almost to Church Street. The 2.5-acre site is a regular meeting place for the group Upper Noe Neighbors, and also attracts users from Glen Park, Bernal Heights, and the Mission District.
The renovated compound now boasts a refurbished gym whose hardwood floors sport a lip-gloss sheen, and an auditorium with soft pendant lighting. The basketball gym and auditorium--both wheelchair-accessible--are painted in earth-tone colors of brown and sandy yellow.
Outdoors, there's a blacktop basketball court, a tennis court lighted for evening play, and an unlighted softball field covered in a carpet of neatly manicured grass.
A completely revamped children's play area includes new swing sets, plastic slides, a cone-shaped structure with climbing ropes that also spins like a merry-go-round, and wooden benches and tables for eagle-eyed parents.
The playground has "put a big smile on a lot of kids," says city project manager Keith Kawamura.
The off-leash dog run is located beyond the softball diamond in the northeast corner of the complex. During the party on Sept. 6, it will be dedicated to the late John "Joby" Shinoff, who with his yellow labrador retriever, Lily, was one of the dog park's biggest supporters.
City Stresses Safety
Dufty says park staff and San Francisco police officers will have a "strong presence" at the rec center during evening hours for the first few months. "We want to set a tone of being very protective," said Dufty, "so the bad apples aren't tagging and claiming it as their territory.
"If they go and see police and park rangers there, the word gets out that this is not the place you'd want to mess with," the supervisor cautioned. "We want people to be respectful and protective."
The hours at Upper Noe Rec Center are still being formulated. Tentative park hours, during which staff would be present, are Monday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tentative hours for opening and closing park entrances and bathrooms are sunrise to sunset.
Ruth Cardillo, for one, can hardly wait for the city to unbolt the gates. Cardillo, who lives a half block away on 29th Street, thinks the rec center "has all the things that kids need" and will be the place of choice for her two adolescent children to hang out.
"I feel it's a safe place where they can meet their friends," she said. "There's a sense of freedom" that reminds Cardillo of growing up in upstate New York.
Long Wait for Upgrade
The five-decade-old facility has been a home away from home for several generations of youth, but was rundown and sorely in need of a facelift. It closed in September 2006 for a full-scale makeover that included seismic upgrades, new heating and electric systems, a reinforced gym roof, a modernized kitchen, and spiffed-up meeting rooms.
The center initially was scheduled to reopen around the beginning of the year, then reset for April. Winter rain and a series of oversight problems delayed the project, whose $11.6 million price tag cost about $500,000 more that originally planned.
Dufty put a share of the blame on the city's Department of Public Works (DPW). "I knew that there were some rain delays, but I had no idea there was really just a mishandling of design documents by DPW that led the contractor down the wrong path in certain areas," he said. "It was not the fault of the rec department."
Tiles and Teas Bring in $70,000
The holdup, however, gave neighborhood supporters more time to raise funds to pay for items not covered in the city's retrofit budget. The Friends group, founded two years ago specifically to aid the center, has collected more than $70,000 through street and house parties, a sipping soiree at Lovejoy's Tea Room in April, and sales of commemorative tiles and plaques.
The fundraising drive "took a while to get going," said Torre, but picked up after the group introduced a program to let donors purchase special tiles that bore the names of children or loved ones. The group sold 130 tiles, which cost from $250 to $599, and a handful of plaques that cost $1,000 to $5,000.
Torre says the tiles will be installed in a new curved concrete wall bordering the kids' sandbox, and the plaques "most likely" will be attached to benches in or near the children's play area. The keepsakes are on order and are expected to be installed in October.
The funds are also paying for audiovisual equipment; toys for small kids; new sports uniforms for youth; tables, chairs, and other kitchen equipment; and exterior fencing.
One donor, Eden Godsoe, said she was motivated to purchase a $1,000 plaque because the center was going to be a nice outdoor play area for her children, ages 3 and 1.
"We knew we'd be using it a lot in the future," said Godsoe, a resident of 25th Street. During the time the center was closed for renovation, Godsoe had occasionally driven to a park in Pacific Heights.
"Now it's great to have someplace to walk to."
To get more information about the park's fundraising campaign or to donate, e-mail Alexandra Torre at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.noevalleyreccenter.com.
The Upper Noe Recreation Center will have a grand reopening on Saturday, Sept. 6, with food, music, sports demonstrations, and activities for the entire family.
The party takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the park, located on Day Street near Sanchez Street. Following an official dedication by Supervisor Bevan Dufty, the group Charity and JAMband will take the stage for a solid hour of music. The local band plays danceable rock and soul music that is appropriate for kids of all ages.
Meantime, youngsters can get their faces painted, dabble in arts and crafts, or play on the park's new swings and climbing structures. The fun also will include tai chi, baseball, tennis, basketball demonstrations, and hula hoop instruction. There'll also be a raffle for canine lovers, and doggie treats for their pets.
Friends of Noe Valley Recreation Center and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department are co-sponsoring the free event.
For additional information, visit www.noevalleyreccenter.com.