UPDATE: A block party to celebrate the groundbreaking for the new Southeast Community Center at 1550 Evans Ave. that was scheduled for Saturday, March 7, at 11 a.m. has been canceled due to coronavirus precautions, according to the San Francisco Utilities Commission. Construction on the project itself will continue as planned.
“Safety is always our top priority, and with the growing presence of the Coronavirus in the Bay Area, the SFPUC is making the decision to cancel the event in order to ensure the health and wellbeing of our communities,” the SFPUC said in a statement.
When politicians and community leaders break ground Saturday morning on a new Southeast Community Center, they will be fulfilling promises first made to the Bayview neighborhood in the 1980s to provide a space for educational and social services to residents.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which owns and operates the current Southeast Community Center at 1800 Oakdale Ave., chose to relocate to the new site at 1550 Evans St. based on community input.
The new center, projected to open in Spring 2020, will feature a large, state-of-the-art special events space, along with rooms for community events, meetings, recreation, and child care services.
There will be a two-acre green space available for exercise, picnics and lawn sports. Parking and public transit access will be increased dramatically, and the Head Start program, which currently has a 1,000 person wait-list, will have its capacity doubled. The center will have solar panels on its roof and 100 percent greenhouse gas free hydroelectricity from the Hetch Hetchy Regional Power System.
The original Oakdale facility was built in 1987 by the City in an effort to mitigate the negative impact of having 80 percent of the the City’s waste treatment taking place in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. Odor and pollution from the plant began plaguing the community and the Southeast Community Center was something activists demanded from the city.
“We couldn’t change what was happening in our community,” said Gina Fromer, chair of the Southeast Facility Commission. Fromer was born and raised in Bayview and has family roots in the neighborhood dating back to the 1840s. “We fought, we couldn’t change that, but this is what we were going to do to mitigate some of this.”
“I remember being at the opening in ‘88, and there was such hope. It was packed. It was so big, it was so new and we had never had that in the community before,” she added.
After getting married up the street, Fromer had her wedding reception with 400 people at the Southeast Community Center in 2000.
SFPUC Community Partners Liaison Briyanna Butler grew up two blocks from the center and attended its state-subsidized Head Start child care program when she was four years old. After high school, she was able to work full-time while taking City College English and math classes at the center before transferring to the University of San Francisco.
“That was super cool. I was able to walk to school from home, and not have to travel outside the community to benefit from education opportunities,” Butler said.
Despite its clear benefits, however, there were challenges with having a 1980s facility function as a community hub and beacon in the twenty-first century. There are parking and transit limitations that serve as barriers to utilization of the Oakdale site.
“The building itself has some restrictions to what we can provide,” Butler said.
“It’s pretty old. It gets cold when it’s really, really cold, it gets hot when it’s really, really hot,” she added. “I’m not exactly sure that 1970s technology serves a 21st century community center.”
SFPUC Assistant General Manager of External Affairs Juliet Ellis said that after touring the Southeast Center ten years ago, she found hardly anyone in the building and got stuck in the elevator. She had concerns that the center was failing to live up to the mitigation agreement that community activists had fought for in the 70s and 80s.
At a community meeting called shortly after her tour, residents were asked what they wanted from the community center.
Ellis remembers former Bayview District Supervisor Sophie Maxwell speaking up.
“She said you really don’t need to do a lot more of these community stakeholder meetings asking us what we want,” Ellis recalled. “We want what we wanted back in the 80s, which is a vibrant thriving community resource, where the neighbors and kids and young people can go and get amazing educational opportunities in the neighborhood, that they can get state of the art workforce development training, and that there could be amazing support for kids and seniors.”
A teardown and rebuild wasn’t met with enthusiasm, and a disruptive renovation wasn’t a viable option, according to Ellis.
SFPUC conducted an extensive outreach campaign to learn what residents wanted, and 71 percent of people surveyed preferred the option of building a new facility at the intersection of Third Street and Evans Avenue, adjacent to the T Muni line. The five-acre site was purchased by the SFPUC in November 2012.
“This new center has a lot of community involvement in planning, and that’s important.” said Oscar James, a local resident and Bayview Hunters Point Historian in the SFPUC press release. “The original center didn’t have as much community involvement when planning. The residents here are happy that the SFPUC made the effort to make sure our voices were heard this time.”
All the tenants at the Oakdale facility other than the Human Services Agency are planning to move to the new community center on Evans, including Five Keys, a program that helps incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth get GEDs or high school diplomas.
Fromer and Ellis have high hopes for the educational building that will also be built on the site. They both are focused on holding City College Chancellor Rocha accountable to his verbal commitment that classes will be offered at the Southeast Community Center to fulfill the promise of local professional development opportunities for residents. The City College bond measure Proposition includes $34 million for the project.
“The fulfillment of prior promises and commitments to community, is one of the things we are working hard to realize in our office,” said Supervisor Shamann Walton in a statement. “It is exciting to see one of those promises of a brand-new 21 st century community center for Bayview come to fruition. We will make sure the activities at the community center benefit everyone in the Bayview, and we are looking forward to the new state of the art education facility, that will lead to tangible career opportunities for our community.”