Friday, September 16, 2011

KaBOOM! explodes South City's Orange Park playground

It’s no secret that local governments are in dire straights. The recession has depleted the coffers of local agencies and resulted in huge cuts in local budgets.

Even my own city of residence, South San Francisco, has cut its budget by more than $700,000 and that “low” level of cuts was only possible thanks to a heavy dip into the reserves. So it was no surprise that when it came time to renovate the playground at Orange Park — absolutely my kid’s favorite playground in the region — the city looked for a way to cut costs.

The City entered a public/private partnership with KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization that has built hundreds of playgrounds across the country. Former Daly City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Eric Zeemering, who is also former SFSU public administration professor, told me last year that KaBOOM! “bring(s) a great group of volunteers together and really do(es) fantastic work.”

After a months-long process of fundraising and volunteer recruitment, the new playground opened late last month. The result of that work is up at the top of this post.

To review, let’s look at how Orange Park’s main playground used to be (2007 photo):

All of that was ripped out, including a pair of train play sets that my son loved playing on. Now there’s just a big vacant space on the formerly busy playground:

My son misses the old trains. I understand there was a limit to what KaBoom could donate, but why did they have to rip ALL the old playground equipment out? I know the City said it was due to it not meeting safety codes, but if it were an actual hazard, wouldn't they have ripped it out long before now?

Nevertheless, both my kid and others seemed to enjoy the new equipment (left). It was obviously clean, the slides were still nice and slick, there were no jagged edges and there was a refreshing lack of graffiti. In short, what they still did have at the playground was very nice.

And, of course, the old place didn’t have such dire safety warnings:

Public/private partnerships have proven to be a valuable way to leverage limited funds. Cities can’t do it on their own anymore, and organizations such as KaBOOM! (which was hilariously featured in an episode of Parks and Recreation) might just be key to local governments’ ability to deliver services.

But citizens need to beware of the strings attached, and next time, keep the train!

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