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San Francisco Bay Area community news

Rec centers ‘stretched very thin’

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Examiner Staff Writer
December 31, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — City-run recreation facilities are understaffed and keep unpredictable hours, vexing locals and prompting an edict from the Controller’s Office that the Recreation and Park Department begin keeping better track of its offerings.

The department staffs 63 facilities, including recreation centers, clubhouses and playgrounds. Staffing at the facilities has dropped steadily since 2004, according to a report from Controller Ben Rosenfield.

As a result, newly renovated recreation centers — such as Upper Noe Valley and Minnie and Lovie Ward — have reopened this year with fewer hours, and don’t have predictable or posted hours, according to Isabel Wade, director of the Neighborhood Parks Council.

“Voters have approved public funds for these facilities, but if people can’t get inside it’s not a big improvement,” said Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who prompted the controller to investigate.

Minnie and Lovie Ward Recreation Center, in the Oceanview neighborhood, opened this fall after a $16.8 million renovation with six staffers. Since then, injuries, transfers and layoffs have reduced its staff to two, according to neighbor Mary Harris.

Neighbors were recently told that a staffer from the Merced Heights Recreation Center would be transferred to Oceanview, but that might mean closing Merced Heights more often, Harris said.

“Right now, we’re stretched very thin,” said Katie Petrucione, finance director for the parks department. “If a given recreation director calls in sick or is on vacation, we have less ability to backfill those posts.”

Three additional recreation directors are being laid off in The City’s midyear budget cuts, Petrucione said.

Before Upper Noe closed for $11.1 million in renovations more than two years ago, it was open during daytime hours seven days a week, according to advocate Alexandra Torre. Now, it’s open fewer hours during the week and is closed Sundays — despite locals’ offers to volunteer time or pay out of pocket for a staffer.

Dufty said he plans to meet with the department’s union to brainstorm ideas for boosting recreation facility hours.

Although interim parks director Jared Blumenfeld said he hadn’t seen the report, the department is aware of problems involving facility hours and is working to remedy them.

“I’m looking at every solution,” Blumenfeld said. “One that would help is to have an electronic key-card system so you can track every facility — so if it’s supposed to open at 8:30 a.m. and isn’t open at 9 a.m., you can send someone to open it.”

Only one facility still faces renovation
After a wave of renovations and reopenings, just one city-run recreation center remains closed for upgrades: Harvey Milk, located at Duboce Park.

Milk has been shuttered since July 2007 for $10.8 million in overhauls to everything from its roof to its elevators.

When the three-story center reopens next April, it will feature a new photo center and darkroom, rehearsal and meeting rooms, a recording studio and office space for staff and the public, according to Lisa Seitz Gruwell, communications director for the Recreation and Park Department.

Programs for the new center are still being finalized, but will include photo classes and youth music programs, Seitz Gruwell said.

Rec and Park celebrated a bevy of recreation facilities in 2008, including, most recently, Sava Pool in the Sunset district. The department is now putting the finishing touches on a few sites slated to reopen in early 2009.

Renovations to Ingleside’s Aptos Playground, including work on its restrooms, will be fully complete in February. That same month, North Beach Pool is slated to reopen, along with the newly built rhino and hippo enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo.

St. Mary’s Playground, in Bernal Heights, is scheduled to reopen in April with new playground equipment, drinking fountains, landscaping, irrigation and a restroom.

— Beth Winegarner

City’s suggestions
Among the findings of a city report on Recreation and Park facilities:

– The number of recreation centers closed for renovation has dropped from nine to one in the past two years
– Recreation staff has declined from 200 in July 2004 to nearly 175 in September 2008
– The department does not maintain official public hours of operation for its recreation facilities
– The department has no systematic means of monitoring facility closures, due to lack of staff

Recommendations:

– Rec and Park should develop a method for tracking and monitoring staff attendance, staffing shortfalls and unscheduled facility closures — possibly using 311
– The department should look at extending hours at recreation centers while compressing hours at smaller clubhouses

Source: Controller’s Office

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Written by Beth Winegarner

December 31, 2008 at 4:50 AM

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