La Jolla Park & Rec board begins fundraising for playground project

As the La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. board continues to wait for ideas and feedback on the La Jolla Rec Center playground renovation, it announced at its March 22 meeting that it would begin the fundraising phase of the project. The topic of the playground was not on the agenda, but discussion took place nevertheless during the meeting’s public comment period.

With little money in hand and hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to make the playground ADA-compliant (and even more cash needed for an upgrade and complete overhaul), acting chair Mary Coakley-Munk told attendees, “As a board, we feel it’s important to note that there is no money and we are not aware of any grant that is coming in any time in the future. … We definitely are in need of donations.”

The contributions thus far have been a $25,000 gift from Audrey Geisel, and other donations that could be used for the playground, but were not expressly given for its renovation.

Board chair Cindy Greatrex, who was not at the meeting, later told the La Jolla Light that no actual grant money is coming in, but an anonymous donor(s) is still planning to make a major contribution, which is expected by the summer. It was previously reported that $350,000 was committed by this donor.

However, Coakley-Munk noted, “$350,000 is approximately a third or a quarter of what we’re going to need for the project because of all the ADA issues. The new restrooms alone, which will need to be ADA-compliant, will be close to $300,000. Realistically, if we would like to be creative and end up with something special, which is what I’d like to see, it’s going to cost more, but we can do it.

“This community knows how badly we need to renovate the playground and I think the community will support the project. We encourage people to be interested in the project, we want to hear what they have to say, but we need to have funds to make it happen.”

Other adjustments needed to reach ADA compliance include increasing the space between play fixtures and making changes to the play equipment.

Status report

Save for one idea presented by La Jollan Dan McCandless, specific themes, features, configuration and more, have reportedly only come forward via e-mail and were not disclosed at the meeting.

In December and January, McCandless presented his suggestion for a complete playground reconfiguration with the acknowledgment that his idea would cost more than simply replacing the existing features with more modern ones. His plan calls for the basketball courts to be moved to what is now the toddler area (close to Draper Avenue), and combine the different play areas into one space. This would increase the amount of available space, and keep children close together for safety.

His wife, Alexis McCandless, a mother of three, said, “We use the space all the time … a concern of mine has always been the disjointedness of the play spaces as they are now. With a 15-month-old in the toddler section, it’s hard for me to maintain a line-of-sight to my 4- and 6-year-olds in the other section. Going between the two spaces is difficult. … Consolidating the play spaces in the middle of the Rec Center is a brilliant idea for those with multiple kids.”

However, Dan McCandless expressed concern about the lack of forward momentum on the project. “I had hoped, by this point, we would have come to a decision as to which layout we’re going to go with — whether we are going to keep it as is and replace the equipment (at its current footprint) and replace the basketball courts, or do a new design for the whole space just to get it going,” he said. “Once we have a decision on the layout, the next step is fundraising, because until all the money is raised, you cannot put a shovel in the ground.”

He also said he would spearhead the fundraising effort.

The board has yet to vote on a renovation layout and has not put forward an alternative to McCandless’ plan. In past months, the board said it needed more community feedback before voting, but has yet to set a deadline for that feedback.

What’s next?

Coakley-Munk said the topic will “definitely be on the agenda next month,” and meetings for design ideas would be scheduled for a time of the day that better accommodates working parents. The board also hopes to have an information booth at the Rec Center’s Spring Egg Hunt on April 15 where donations would be accepted from those who wish to contribute to the playground renovations.

Further, a website dedicated to collecting ideas and donations is being established. While the website is live at there is no content on it.

At some point, the website will be a forum for updates and schedules, and a way to e-mail suggestions or donate to the project. The City of San Diego’s La Jolla Rec Center website does not contain any information about the project. A Facebook page and dedicated e-mail address are also being planned.

La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. board next meets 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 26 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.