San Francisco Zoo to build new children's playground

The San Francisco Zoo is poised to receive an upgrade for young creatures of the human variety to enjoy.

The dilapidated playground on the northern side of the zoo, named the Elinor Friend Playground, was the focus of a lawsuit about disability access that was settled in 2005. Now the site is set for a full makeover, pending approval from the Recreation and Park Commission.

The San Francisco Zoological Society operates the zoo, but the commission has to approve expenditures for capital projects costing more than $50,000, according to Recreation and Park Department documents. The commission’s capital committee approved the playground plans last week and the vote for full approval is scheduled for Thursday.

According to department documents, the new 52,000-square-foot playground will have three parts that are designed for children ages 6 months to 12 years old. The current wooden structure, metal swing sets, and sand and concrete will be swapped out for areas that will be designed to look like different ecosystems, such as woodlands and polar regions. The design is expected to incorporate “a river island exploration, a polar ice cap play area, and a banyan tree climbing structure,” department documents say.

More than 1 million people visit the zoo each year and nearly one-third are children. The new playground is targeted to provide “a unique, nature-oriented experience that serves as a catalyst for the children to learn about nature and environmental issues while at the same time exercising their bodies and minds,” the documents say.

The cost of the design and construction of the project is expected to be $3.2 million, according to department documents. Of that, the majority is being paid for through private grants, private fundraising and donations. The Recreation and Park Department is providing $138,000.

If approved by the full commission Thursday, the design of the playground is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Construction could wrap up by June.

mbillings@sfexaminer.com

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