Despite $5 million budget shortfall, city forges ahead on playground renovations

Crews demolished the old play structure in the Panhandle earlier this month. | Photo: Camden Avery/Hoodline
By Camden Avery - Published on April 29, 2019.

On Thursday morning, the renovation of the Panhandle Playground officially broke ground, with a ceremony that included Mayor London Breed and District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown.

The Panhandle groundbreaking was also the ceremonial kickoff for work on four other city playgrounds — Alice Chalmers, McLaren, Merced Heights, and Sgt. Macaulay — that are part of the SF Recreation & Parks Department's Let'sPlaySF! program, which is aiming to conduct a sweeping overhaul of 13 public playgrounds citywide.

The program is specifically targeted at "low-income neighborhoods dense with children," as part of an effort to improve neighborhood equity for underserved groups. Chalmers, in the Outer Mission, had previously been declared the city's worst-maintained park, while Sgt. Macaulay sits in the heart of the Tenderloin.

With $22 million in voter-approved public funds already dedicated to the work, Let'sPlay is intended as a collaboration between Rec & Park and the San Francisco Parks Alliance, which is contributing $14.5 million in private donations from its own coffers to help foot the bill.

But the total budget for the project is still $5 million short of what's needed — and the city is planning on private donors making up the entirety of that shortfall. 

Does this mean these under-renovation playgrounds could be left in the lurch?

Rec & Park spokesperson Tamara Aparton said her agency isn't concerned about being able to see the upgrades through—the public-private funding partnership was always part of the plan, and it's not unusual for capital campaigns to be ongoing as work commences, she said.

"We are committed to the campaign," she said in an email, "and will continue until we have the funding for all 13 sites."

She said groundbreaking ceremonies like Thursday's Panhandle event typically help build up excitement and draw donor funds. "We hope [they] will get more people excited to participate," she said.

Panhandle playground-goers needn't worry about the shortfall; Aparton says the $3.2 million in funding for that project is secure. Additional funds raised will help the next playgrounds on the Let'sPlay roster, whose renovations are scheduled to kick off later this year or early in 2020.

Their ranks include the Buchanan Street Mall, Golden Gate Heights Park, Herz Playground, Juri Commons, Richmond Playground, Stern Grove, and West Portal. 

Those interested in supporting the project and helping to make up the $5 million budget shortfall can donate to Let'sPlay here.

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