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East Palo Alto asks residents to design, build new play space

Playground-in-a-day project to reflect community needs and participation

East Palo Alto, in partnership with nonprofits and local sponsors, is hosting Wednesday a "Design Day" community-input meeting during which children, parents and other residents will kick off the planning process for Bell Street Park's new playground.

The 4,000 square-foot playground will be fully built by community volunteers in one day on a subsequent "Build Day" on Aug. 20. The two events are part of a larger project initiated by the city in partnership with the YMCA and national nonprofit KaBOOM!. The nonprofit helps community volunteers build playgrounds in a day by connecting cities with donors. It helped bring in the funding for Bell Street Park's new playground through Mountain View-based retail savings company Coupons.com.

Design Day, lead by KaBOOM!, will begin June 18 with a site visit to Bell Street Park, at the corner of Bell Street and University Avenue, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. After, the event will move to the YMCA at 550 Bell St., with a kids' design workshop scheduled from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. and an adults' workshop from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

During the kids' workshop, children can draw up plans for their dream playground as well as select and position an array of slides, monkey bars and swing sets from play-equipment company Playworld Systems Inc. Parents can offer their own thoughts on safety and usability before the city's hired designer incorporates the ideas into a final design.

Cynthia Bojorquez, East Palo Alto's youth and family services manager and Bell Street Park project lead, outlined KaBOOM!'s collaborative method for making the playground possible: The city provides the land and the community outreach, while the nonprofit finds the majority of the funding.

"The whole approach is an old-fashioned barn raise," she said.

According to KaBOOM!'s website, the nonprofit aims to help communities in need of new play spaces, especially communities that serve kids from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds.

"There's a big shortage of parks and recreational land in East Palo Alto," said Carlos Martinez, economic development manager for the city. "We really need more open space and especially playgrounds."

Currently, the two-acre Bell Street Park is mostly open space, though it does house a skate park. Martinez recalls a playground there many years ago that fell apart and was never rebuilt.

Martinez estimated the city's current parkland-to-resident ratio at about one-third to one-half acre per 1,000 residents. The target, he said, is closer to one-and-a-half acres per 1,000 residents, a number not just ideal for East Palo Alto but for any city.

The East Palo Alto City Council reached out to KaBOOM! after embracing the idea of a community-powered playground designed by residents based on their wants and needs.

"It's an opportunity to have them envision (their own playground)," Bojorquez said. She noted that the community perspective will help determine strategic placement of benches and pathways in addition to the types of play structures in the park.

One goal of the project is to have the park "used by the community on a practical basis," she said.

The design is scheduled to be finished by June 23, Martinez said, after which the city will have until Build Day to excavate and prepare the area by relocating sprinklers and installing a concrete curb around the space where the playground will be built. Come Aug. 20, the area will be ready for volunteers to install the equipment.

"The volunteers will have a lot of work to do in one day," Martinez said.

In addition, Build Day will be a community celebration, with music food donated from local businesses.

"It's about bringing the community together for a very worthy cause -- a playground for children," Martinez said.

While participating adults might be doing most of the heavy lifting on Build Day, such as laying the foundation and installing equipment, Bojorquez said there's still plenty of work for the kids to do. They can serve as site ambassadors, dish out food to volunteers and help to spread the new playground's wood chips.

Bojorquez emphasized the importance of instilling t volunteer spirit in kids and the sense of ownership it provides them.

"We want this to be their park," she said.

The city of East Palo Alto is still looking for volunteer help in the form of fundraiser organizers, sponsors, planning committee team members and food, water and first-aid donors. Interested parties may contact Cynthia Bojorquez at cbojorquez@cityofepa.org.

What: Design Day

When: Wednesday, June 18; site visit: 3:30-4:30 p.m.; kids design workshop: 4:30-5:30 p.m. at the YMCA; adults workshop: 5:30-8 p.m. at the YMCA

Where: Bell Street Park (corner of University and Bell) and Lewis and Joan Platt East Palo Alto YMCA (550 Bell St.), East Palo Alto

Contact: Cynthia Bojorquez, 650-853-3153, cbojorquez@cityofepa.org

This event is free but registration is requested.

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