by Katharine Mieszkowsk, The Bay Citizen
It was recess in the Tenderloin, and students from San Francisco City Academy swarmed the playground at Father Alfred E. Boeddeker Park.
They slid down the rusting slide and hung from monkey bars held aloft by old beams that shed slivers of wood and green paint chips. After recess, bits of paint sometimes dot their clothes, said Vanessa Brakey, administrator for the private Christian school.
“A lot of kids get a lot of splinters from the wood around here,” said Brakey, who was supervising recess last week.
The playground at Boeddeker Park was ranked the worst in San Francisco this month in a survey by the San Francisco Parks Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.
The neglected acre of green space at the corner of Jones and Eddy streets was one of 16 that scored a “D” or “F” on this year’s Playground Report Card. Others on the list include Stern Grove, Lafayette Park and Golden Gate Heights.
For the children from San Francisco City Academy, the only thing worse than playing on the dilapidated structure is not getting any recess at all, an event that occurs almost weekly.
Boeddeker Park is supposed to be open weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. But even with such limited hours, Brakey said the gates remain locked as often as once a week because no one comes to open them. The park is operated by San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.
“If someone doesn’t show up, the kids don’t get any recess,” she said.
The 2010 U.S. Census reported that 2,749 children live in the Tenderloin, which is roughly bounded by Market Street, Post Street and Van Ness Avenue.
The Tenderloin has just three small parks. Boeddeker is the only one open to everyone; the other two, Sgt. John Macaulay Park and Tenderloin Recreation Center Park, are just for children and the adults who accompany them. Those playgrounds scored a "B" and a "C" respectively.
The playground structure at Boeddeker has not been renovated since the 1980s, but the park is poised for a major renovation this fall.
Spearheaded by the Trust for Public Land, the $8 million project will give Boeddeker a new basketball and volleyball court, a tai chi patio, a walking path, a lawn, a stage, a spacious clubhouse and a play area. The old play structure will be demolished, along with the imposing black fences that wall off different sections of the park.
“It’s going to be a new park,” said Betty Traynor, coordinator of Friends of Boeddeker Park, a local group that is involved in the plans to transform Boeddeker.
Construction is due to begin at the end of October or beginning of November; the park will be closed for 13 to 16 months. During the renovation, San Francisco City Academy students will have recess at Tenderloin Recreation Center Park a few blocks away.
The plan for Boeddeker calls for a much more open design, including eliminating the fences that divide the park. The fences were intended to keep park-goers safe, but they instead limit visibility, which once helped make it a haven for drug users and prostitutes.
The police, for one, welcome the new plan. “It will have great view corridors so we can see through there,” said Capt. Joe Garrity of the Tenderloin Station, which sits diagonally across the street from the park.
The state will provide more than $4.5 million for the renovation. Private donors, such as Banana Republic and Levi Strauss Foundation, have also contributed to the effort.
After the renovation, the park department has pledged to expand the park’s hours and keep Boeddeker open from dawn to dusk.
Traynor said Friends of Boeddeker Park is hoping to mobilize volunteers from neighborhood community groups to serve as “eyes on the park.” Community groups plan to keep the renovated park bustling with activities, such as tai chi and after-school programs.
A $195 million park bond on the ballot this November in San Francisco includes $15.5 million for the renovation of the city’s failing playgrounds, such as those dinged in the recent Playground Report Card. The bond would fund capital improvements in parks, not operational expenses, such as staffing. But the renovation of Boeddeker won’t require any of that money, since it has already been raised from state and private sources.
The new playground at Boeddeker will include a big climbing net, swings and giant egg sculptures for small children to climb on.
“It’s important for the children to understand that they’re worth this neighborhood building a park for them and that they deserve to have the best park in the city,” said Dina Hilliard, executive director of the North of Market/Tenderloin Community Benefit District.
This story was produced by The Bay Citizen, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Learn more at www.baycitizen.org.