City sprucing up Dolores Park

When speaking of its putrid-smelling bathrooms, crumbling walkways and patchy grass areas, Robert Brust has a terse summary of Dolores Park, the sprawling open space on the edge of the Mission district.

“Nothing works,” said Brust, who lives near the park and heads the nonprofit advocacy group Dolores Parks Works. “Everything is broken.”

Fortunately for Brust and the thousands of other residents who use the park, a long-awaited rehabilitation project is poised to begin this fall, with the work expected to last one year.

Once the $9 million construction project is completed, the park will feature new bathrooms, a revamped irrigation system, upgraded walkways, designated areas for off-leash dogs, resurfaced tennis courts and a redesigned soccer pitch.

In October, the northern half of the park is slated to be closed for the first phase of improvements, with the second phase starting in March on the southern half. The entire project is expected to be completed by October 2014, according to Sarah Ballard, spokeswoman for the Recreation and Park Department, whose 2008 bond measure is funding the plan.

The idea of renovating Dolores Park first emerged during Rec and Park's push for a 2000 bond measure, and the improvements slated for this fall were originally scheduled to begin a year ago, but were held up to ensure they did not violate The City's historic preservation rules.

Ultimately, the blueprint for the park came as a result of input from dozens of community meetings and hearings in which a plan was formed to improve the open space without changing its fundamental nature.

“The park is still going to be a great place to hang out on a sunny day, it's just going to have nicer facilities,” said Manish Champsee, a nearby resident. “It was really important for the community to see Dolores Park not undergo some radical overhaul.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose district includes Dolores Park, said the community outreach process was one of the best he's ever experienced.

“We worked really hard to make sure that this was a broad-based process where there was a good balance for all needs of the park,” Wiener said.

Wiener and Ballard said a key element of the improvement process was to ensure that at least portions of the park remain open at all times. In 2010, rumors spread that the entire park would be closed for renovation, prompting a strong backlash from residents.

Brust said there are still access concerns, with half of the park off-limits to visitors. However, he added that people should be more familiarized with closures following a separate construction project last year at the park's playground, which cordoned off large areas of open space.

Today, the Rec and Park's capital committee is scheduled to vote on recommending the conceptual design of the plan, which will go up for final approval at the department's full commission later this month. After that, the only remaining step in the approval process is awarding the construction contract.

Coming soon:

• Completely rebuilt bathrooms capable of handling 2,500 people a day

• Repaved Muni tracks and removal of abandoned J-Church stop at 19th and Church streets

• Accessibility improvements on pathways and sidewalks in the park

• Completely renovated irrigation and drainage systems

• More benches, bike parking and trash cans

• Creation of designated off-leash dog play areas at northern and southern ends of park

• Rehabilitation of multiuse sport field, including markings designed for under-10 soccer pitch

• New operations building constructed underneath basketball court

• Renovated entry plaza, including relocation of bell and accessibility improvements

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