| June 2013
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By Heather World
If all goes as planned, the 1930s-era bathrooms at Noe Courts will be converted to an ADA-accessible, energy-efficient, and actually usable building by August of 2014. Photo by Beverly Tharp
Noe Courts may be small, but its basketball court, tennis court, playground, and grassy knoll have scores of constituents, about 100 of whom came to a May 15 meeting to brainstorm future plans for the .93-acre park.
Neighbors broke into focus groups, and when they reconvened a few common themes emerged: the park would be well served by having a dog-free lawn area; more lighting might discourage late-night mischief; and the ADA-accessible path required for the remodeled bathrooms could double as a paved trail for children on scooters and bikes.
The money to revamp the park at the corner of Douglass and 24th streets comes from a parks bond passed by voters in 2008. Neighbors Justine Sears and Laura Norman won a $246,000 grant from the bond’s Community Opportunity Fund in 2011 to fix the site’s bad drainage and add some seating.
Meanwhile, the Recreation and Park Department has directed bond money to remodel bathrooms like those at Noe Courts, which date back to the 1930s.
“We do want to hear about other things on your wish list,” added project manager Marvin Yee during introductory remarks.
Many voiced a wish for grass clean enough to play on. The lawn is notoriously muddy and smelly, and many people attributed its poor condition to the dogs who come for exercise.
Kathleen Laipply is at the park seven days a week. Sometimes she brings her three children, all under the age of 7. Five days a week, she leads a “baby boot camp” exercise class for parents with stroller-bound children.
“I think there needs to be a separate dog area,” she said, echoing a sentiment expressed at all five tables.
Others suggested banning dogs altogether. “I love dogs—I owned one for 16 years—but kids need grass to play in,” said Terry Edeli, who has lived on nearby Worth Street for 37 years. A younger Edeli played tennis in the park. He later taught his sons to catch a ball and throw a Frisbee there.
The children’s playground is packed, he said, but kids rarely spill over onto the grass because it’s been so heavily used by dogs that parents consider it unusable for children.
“I think the city should make the call and have it be for the kids,” he said.
Dog Doo or Drainage Disaster?
Others, like Sally Smith (no relation to the Voice editor), said the dogs are not the reason the lawn is dirty. Drainage is the problem.
“There’s times when it smells like a sewer, and that’s not from the dogs, that’s from the pipes backed up,” said Smith, who has lived near the park for 22 years and brings her dog for exercise at least twice a day.
She and the other dog owners she sees at the park are conscientious and make it safer, she said, echoing another sentiment heard during the small-group discussions. Regulars remind negligent owners to clean up after their animals, she said. Smith even confronted a group of kids who regularly vandalized the park.
“If I hadn’t been there with my dog as a regular, those kids would still be coming and damaging the park,” she said.
Some participants singled out the tennis court as an under-used space that might be cleared for more grass or play space, but tennis player Miriam Moss disagreed.
“The condition of the court is the reason no one uses it,” said Moss. There is no shortage of demand, she said. She said she often has to go from one city park to another if she wants to play.
“You’re like a gypsy, trying to find an empty court, and when you get there you have to wait an hour,” she said.
Several groups justified their suggested changes by pointing to a map of park areas within a 20-minute walk of Noe Courts provided by the park department. For example, there is a tennis court and an off-leash dog area one-half mile away at Douglass Park. Left off the map was the steep hill between Noe Courts and Douglass Playground.
While many expected a war between those who want space for dog play and those who want more space for humans, the tone of the meeting was so civil that at least a half-dozen people remarked on it.
Paving the Way to the Potty
The new design will include a wheelchair-accessible paved path leading from the lowest point of the park—the playground—to the bathroom building at the highest point. Lizzie Hirsch of the Department of Public Works laid out two possibilities. The first would have the path winding along the top edge of the children’s playground, through the center of the park, and up to the bathrooms. In the second, the path would run along the lower perimeter of the park and turn toward the bathrooms when it hit the basketball court.
Yee showed a drawing of the proposed bathroom remodel. The park department is standardizing its bathrooms, emphasizing natural lighting and installing low-energy faucets and light fixtures.
The footprint will remain the same, with one single-use bathroom for men and one for women. Much of the interior will be tile, and there will be colored tile on the exterior as well, likely green, Yee said.
The department laid out a timeline for the project and hopes to have drawings for the public to look over by June. A second meeting will follow in July.
If all goes well, the Recreation and Park Commission will approve the plans in August. Construction is estimated to start between April and July of 2014 and end by that August.
A specific page for the project had not been set up by press time but was expected to be posted soon on the department’s website, www.sfrecpark.org.