Park & Rec board seeks more input on playground re-do: Looking for a theme, structure types, designs and layouts

La Jolla’s Park & Recreation board is struggling to move forward with upgrades to the Rec Center playground, due to a lack of suggestions since it asked for public feedback late last year. 

Pending one detailed presentation, specific ideas for a possible $350,000 (or more) playground renovation — including themes, types of structures, layout and more — have not been forthcoming.

The board discussed the challenge during its Feb. 22 meeting at the Rec Center, and cited possible reasons for the input shortage as: a lack of public knowledge about the project, people with broad concepts rather than specific ideas and questions on what City requirements must be met in designing a new playground. 

To resolve these issues, the board decided to dedicate its March 22 meeting to compiling information, and to staffing a question-and-answer booth at the Rec Center’s Spring Egg Hunt on April 15. 

The board presented the idea of updating the playground during a community meeting on Dec. 8, at which dozens of parents, playground users and playscape design firms offered feedback. The board said it received a commitment of $350,000 from an anonymous group of donors, who requested the community weigh-in on how to best use the money to improve the outdated play structures. However, given the lack of forward momentum, one board member stressed urgency on the matter and said she was worried the donors “might get nervous,” and possibly withdraw their support. 

One idea to come forward involves a complete overhaul of the playground, including moving basketball courts and redesigning the play structures for children. However, concerns including fencing, additional cost (and time) and basketball court location are making the board hesitant.

Opined member Lizzet FitzCluster, “In the past, we talked about the look of the Rec Center, and having fences surrounding it made people think it looked like a jail ... we, specifically (board member) Hobe Schroeder, worked very hard to look at different types of fencing, and the plan that was brought to us last month — bringing the courts to the front near the Draper Avenue entrance with even more fencing — goes against what we previously discussed. Plus, many parents use the Draper Avenue entrance and it can be intimidating for young children to walk past basketball courts.” Additional challenges to this plan included higher costs and questionable feasibility.

Overcoming obstacles

The board cited a lack of public awareness for the lack of feedback. Community member Hilary Daly, in attendance to offer a parent’s perspective, said, “My kids go to The Bishop’s School (which is right next to the Rec Center) and I’ve talked to other parents and they have no idea about this project or that these discussions are going on.” 

Further, it was noted there is not a dedicated website nor phone number for sharing playground renovation ideas. The only option is to attend the 5 p.m. fourth Wednesdays meetings at the Rec Center each month or e-mail chair Cindy Greatrex at cindy.greatrex@diplomats.com

“At the community meeting in December, we got lots of ideas. We took notes with what everyone wanted and we should review those (at a future meeting),” said member Bill Robbins. These suggestions included more sitting spaces, better safety, ADA-compliant play structures, adding a mechanism for shade, using marine weather-resistant materials, replacing items that are rusted or cracking, and incorporating structures that encourage creativity.

However, member Carolyn Parrish pointed out, “We need more than a ‘wish-list.’ That could go on for the next 10 years. We need to pare it down, refine it and get some real plans that people could look at.”

Member Pat Miller said the public was not likely aware of the limitations facing the board when it comes to ADA-compliance and working with existing City infrastructure. “If we re-do the playground, it has to be ADA-compliant. And with that comes special conditions, such as the spacing of the play structures and pieces of equipment,” she said. 

“What we’ve learned since the first meeting is, if we wanted to just replace the existing equipment exactly as it is, we couldn’t do that because there isn’t enough space between the structures. One of the ideas behind moving the basketball courts is that it would give us more play space, given the ADA requirements. There are things we are learning as we’re going and the community needs to know these things, too.” 

The February meeting’s acting chair Mary Coakley Munk added that the board would need to review City infrastructure plans to know what sits under the Rec Center. “The City has new drainage requirements, and we would need to – regardless of what we end up doing – get a survey done of the underground infrastructure. We need to have a definite understanding of how things drain, the way they are, etc. … We can say ‘this is what we want to do,’ but we can’t do anything until we know what our limitations are. The survey will tell us what we can do.” 

La Jolla Park & Rec, Inc. next meets 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 22 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. Those with ideas for the playground renovation are encouraged to attend and present their suggestions.

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