Noe Valley Voice March 2011

Of Sand and Stars: Springtime at Upper Noe Rec Center

By Erica Reder

Elise Lowry and son Noel hope warmer weather (and fewer visits from kittycats) will soon free the sandbox at Upper Noe Recreation Center. Till then, they’ll look for other shoveling opportunities in the park.    Photo by Pamela Gerard

Everyone loves the sandbox at Upper Noe Recreation Center, but lately some unwanted visitors have created a sticky situation.

“It’s pretty much almost every day where parents come to me and say, ‘My child was sitting in the sandbox and rubbed poop all over themselves,’” said facility coordinator Joe Scott.

Local felines top the suspect list, though they keep a stealthy profile. “I haven’t seen any cats here,” said Scott, “but a lot of parents tell me they come up at night” to invade the children’s play area.

Current measures have done little to stop the incursions. “Right now we have tarps with signage saying it’s closed [at night],” said Scott. “We put cones down on top of them, but the cats figure out how to get in there.”

So rec center staff and community members have brainstormed a bunch of sandbox solutions. “Basically, we’ve come up with three different possible scenarios,” said Kate Haug, of the park’s stewardship group, Friends of Noe Valley Recreation Center.

Scratching Their Heads

The first would be to buy a custom-made cover too heavy for cats to lift. “That’ll be one of the best solutions at this point in time,” said Scott, due to its affordability. “The Friends group has enough to cover that,” confirmed Haug.

Unfortunately, a heavy cover would limit accessibility for humans, too. With no one to unlock and remove the cover during staff off-hours, Sundays and Mondays would have to be sandbox-free days. “It would be treated as a facility that’s only open when the rec center is open,” said Haug.

But round-the-clock options would require some outside fundraising. One proposal calls for replacing the sand with a rubberized bottom, while another suggests filling up the hole and putting a new play structure in its spot. Estimated costs for either option range from $10,000 to $15,000, according to the Friends’ February newsletter. “Construction costs are a little more expensive for that location because it’s harder for big equipment to get in there,” explained Haug.

Money concerns aside, reluctance to part with the sand may rule out these ideas. “I think a lot of people are interested in keeping the sand because they feel like it’s an important tactile experience,” said Haug.

Either way, the Friends group wants neighbors’ input. “We’re trying to get as much community feedback as possible,” said Haug. “The Friends are having a meeting on March 9th and will be taking comments there,” she added.

Park users who can’t make the meeting should email comments to Haug at

Astronomy Inside!

Despite the sandbox challenge, spirits remain high at Upper Noe. Spring’s approach means new classes and events at the park, located at 295 Day Street near Sanchez Street.

Starting this month, the rec center will host a portable planetarium. Future astronomers will gather for weekly sessions in the gymnasium. “It’s going to be a half dome where kids go in,” explained Scott. “You can actually turn it on, and it’ll do the constellations as the kids are sitting inside.” Potential stargazers shouldn’t worry about conflicts with school. “It’s going to be in the evenings,” said Scott. “We want to make sure they get home and do their homework first.”

Sign Language for Kids

A new class called “Little Hands: Sing, Sign, and Play” will teach sign language to kids ages 1-2 and 3-5, in two different sessions.

Scott singled out the class among this season’s 54 offerings. “I’m excited about Little Hands,” he said. “I think they’re going to learn 20 words like ‘I’m hungry’ and ‘I have to go the bathroom.’” He clarified that all children are welcome to attend, regardless of hearing ability.

Another new class, “Taster’s Choice,” will fulfill requests for girls-only athletics. Girls ages 5-8 and 9-12 will have an opportunity to try out basketball, tennis, and track in a single-gender setting. Haug is pleased to see the program on the agenda. “I’ve been asking a lot about girls’ athletics and trying to support that,” she said. “I think girls should definitely have that space for their own practice.”

Registration for spring classes begins March 5 at 10 a.m. “They’ll fill up on the fifth,” Scott warned. “So get out fast and come to see us, or try to be online at 10 o’clock.”

The same thing applies two weeks later, when summer camp sign-ups open on March 19. This year’s camp will feature new activities, including field trips and a movie-making class.

Zumba and Bollywood

But the rec center isn’t just for kids. Scott said there are two all-day Zumba dance fitness events planned for April, on the 9th and the 23rd.

“We’re going to do another film festival,” he added—a second screening of locally produced Bicycle Bride. More than a hundred people showed up for the first iteration, which included Bollywood dancing.

Haug said the center could use more goings-on of that nature. “We would like to see more community-oriented events,” she explained. “That could be bluegrass, circus actsÉthe auditorium has an amazing stage!”

Those who prefer the outdoors should check out Ladybug Gardeners, which meets on the second Saturday of each month. Volunteers spend the morning weeding, trimming, and building as needed—“helping [to keep] our small park pretty, fun, and safe,” as leader Joan Lionberger wrote.

Green thumbs will have an additional opportunity to get out this spring, when the Friends group initiates a new planting project. “We’re working with the city to start planting the Sanchez side of the Recreation Center, which wasn’t planted during the renovation,” said Haug. “Hopefully we’ll be able to start planting some of that in the spring.”

To read more about the Upper Noe Recreation Center, learn how to register for classes, and keep abreast of goings-on, visit or call 415-970-8061.