Rec center rebuilt in center of Chinatown 

click to enlarge On the level: The sloping land under the Betty Ann Ong Recreation Center provided unique construction challenges. The outdoor playground, for example, is level to the building’s third story.
  • On the level: The sloping land under the Betty Ann Ong Recreation Center provided unique construction challenges. The outdoor playground, for example, is level to the building’s third story.

Just two years ago, the lot at Washington and Mason streets contained little more than rubble and detritus.

Now, it holds the “jewel” of Chinatown.

The Betty Ann Ong Recreation Center is set to reopen Saturday after being demolished and completely rebuilt in a $21 million renovation. In place of an aging and dilapidated structure, the new three-level building will feature a full-length basketball court, multipurpose rooms for seniors and youth programs, a renovated playground facility and energy-efficient designs.

“It really is a jewel,” said Toks Ajike, a project manager for the Recreation and Park Department, which oversaw the rebuild. “A lot of detail went into making this project the best possible center for the community.”

Located in the densely populated Chinatown neighborhood, the recreation site — named after a local resident who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — is the most heavily used public recreation center in The City, said Jimmy Chin, a sports supervisor for Rec and Park. About 200 to 300 people a day frequented the old site, and with more room and more resources, the new center will likely attract even more, Chin said.

“This center is so important for the local residents, not just from Chinatown, but also from Nob Hill, Russian Hill and North Beach,” Chin said. “There really isn’t another facility like this close by.”

Located on a steeply sloping hill, the new center presented several challenges for planners, and to fit the contours of the site, designers had to be creative, Ajike said.

As a result, the outside playground sits level with the third floor of the building. The bottom level houses the main utility functions of the building, and the second floor is the site of the basketball court, which is also capable of staging badminton and volleyball games.

The playground contains a rainwater collection system that irrigates the center’s plants and shrubbery, and the building achieved a silver rating for sustainable design from the Green Building Council.

“It used to be that you had to walk through a boiler room to get to the gym,” Chin said. “And now we have a state-of-the-art building. The change has been amazing.”

The $21 million rehab project — completed on-budget — is part of the $185 million Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond measure passed by voters in 2008. A grand reopening celebration will be held Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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