La Jollans share ideas for Recreation Center playground renovation

Packed with parents, vendors and interested residents, the first of several meetings to gather input on La Jolla Recreation Center playground improvements was held Dec. 8 in the auditorium. The meeting was facilitated by members of La Jolla Park & Rec Inc., the board that helps manage the Rec Center.

The board received a commitment of $350,000 from an anonymous group of donors for improvements, but said they needed community feedback on how to best spend it. Board member Bill Robbins explained, “We want everybody’s input. (From those ideas) we are going to determine the price … and then we have to consider how much maintenance would be needed. This is the first of a dream session, we would like all of you to submit ideas and tell your friends, because we really want to talk to the community before we do anything. We want to hear from a lot of people.” 

Lizzet FitzCluster added, “We are a 10-member board and do not want to make decisions for everyone, but (after all the input is collected) we will ultimately vote and hope to get this project done as soon as possible.” 

The Rec Center board said it would provide updates as available, but encouraged community members to attend their next few monthly meetings to keep themselves informed of progress. The meetings are held at 5 p.m. fourth Wednesdays at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. Among the early input from parents, priorities included improving safety, adding a mechanism for shade, using marine weather-resistant material, replacing rusted or cracked items, and incorporating structures that encourage creativity. 

Some said, “we don’t need to re-invent the wheel,” and advocated for replacing the equipment with something similar and/or making quick repairs. Others opined that a complete reworking was in order to go beyond patching cracks. A handful said they supported a tiered approach, with quick fixes taking place first and something more elaborate done down the line. 

Reportedly, occupational therapists for children with special needs and those who helped construct The Shores playground at Kellogg Park offered to aid with the design, when that time comes. 

Children and lifelong Rec Center users Hannah and Brooke FitzCluster said they were excited about the park being re-done and presented photos of examples of structures they liked, hoping for implementation. Among their suggestions were activities that stimulate the brain during play, climbable structures, equipment that makes noise like a xylophone and a generic “sport court” on which several sports could be played. “One of the main things important to us is that our parents can watch us wherever we are playing, especially if I want to play near the basketball courts and my sister wants to play on the structures,” Brooke said. 

La Jollan Dan McChandless, in a nearly 20-minute presentation, said options could include rearranging the entire outdoor area, with the acknowledgment it would cost much more than what is currently available and require extensive fundraising. But assuming the playground keeps its existing footprint, he showed images of playgrounds from around the world that are “playable art” that accommodate the needs of children of varying ages and provide a softer flooring material.

Other ideas

An admittedly “controversial” idea, skatepark designer Bobby Kennedy said he would be willing to design a “skate sculpture center” on the playground. “The average kid in the park is about 14 years old, and I feel that is an underserved group for this Rec Center. We have activities for seniors and little kids, but for 14- to 18-year-olds, there is very little,” he said. “I’m certain we can bring some sort of skating venture to the La Jolla area as a skate-able sculpture.” Kennedy said financial support might be available. 

Another presented option was to install artificial trees similar to those found at the San Diego Zoo, which could reduce maintenance and possibly provide a support mechanism for shade. 

Valerie Salatino, co-founder of Nature Works Inc., said, “Our goal is create realistic trees and other types of nature sculptures. … Our approach to designing a park is to bring in the history of the city and pull that in. For La Jolla, we would bring in elements from the beach, maybe an iridescent Nautilus shell or a Torrey Pine climbing structure.

“If you’ve been to the Zoo lately, you’ve seen some of our artificial trees (in the primate exhibits) that look real but last under intense use. If they can survive the primates, they can survive your kids.” 

At the conclusion of the meeting, La Jolla Park & Rec Inc. co-chair Gail Forbes said, “We are going to take all these wonderful suggestions … and report back as soon as we’ve made some progress. This is an excellent place from which to start our conversation and build consensus and go forward.”

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