Volunteers build East Palo Alto playground in one day

City revitalizes park through community collaboration on single-day construction project

At the crest of the Highway 101 overpass in East Palo Alto, a glimmer of bright orange and lime green peeked through the distant redwoods at Bell Street Park on Wednesday. Just one day earlier, the lot stood empty, save for some concrete foundation.

The vibrant colors are the harbinger of a new 4,000 square-foot playground -- constructed by volunteers Wednesday in all of six hours -- that will give more than 3,200 children a new place to play. The "Build Day" event was the culmination of six months of planning for the project, the product of a partnership between the City of East Palo Alto, the YMCA and KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that helps communities in need of new play spaces build them by connecting them with local donors. KaBOOM! helped the city secure funding and support from Mountain View-based retail savings company

After a kick-off ceremony at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, volunteers divided and conquered, assembling each element of the play structure in teams. Other tasks included construction of wooden arbors, benches and picnic tables, as well as mixing cement, transporting mulch and painting two new murals.

About 150 volunteers from joined East Palo Alto residents, city employees, police officers, and members of the nearby senior center to complete construction by 3:30 p.m.

Cynthia Bojorquez, East Palo Alto's community programs manager, said the new playground at 550 Bell St. will not only give kids a safe, exciting place to play, but will also transform Bell Street Park into a diverse, multi-generational family space. Tree cover and ample seating will make the park more welcoming to seniors, while the playground's rubber surfacing (to be completed later this month) will make the play space accessible for kids of all abilities, she said.

"The mural really represents the vision for the park," Bojorquez said of the artwork painted that day, featuring culturally and racially diverse individuals and motifs.

The bright colors of the play structure, chosen by children during a "Design Day" held in June, speak to the positive and healthy environment that she believes the park will create — and has already been created in part by the spirit of the volunteers.

"Everyone has done what they could," Bojorquez said. "It's like an old-fashioned barn raising."

Rich Hornstein, a volunteer from, remembers arriving at the site, "seeing that there was nothing," and then walking away at the end of the day, being able to see all the work accomplished in one day. The project created community among volunteers as well, he said, having spent a large portion of the afternoon mixing concrete with Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier, vice mayor of East Palo Alto.

"To have this park being brought back to the community like this … it's just wonderful," Hornstein said.

The construction of the playground will also enhance existing city programs such as Fit Zone, a police department-sponsored fitness program that holds free fitness classes at city parks. To Melvin Gaines, the police department's grant program manager, Bell Street Park will no longer be just a place that class is held.

"Now, it will be a destination," he said. "It's great to see the fruits of our labor. We'll soon be out here doing Fit Zone, and we'll be able to look over here and think, 'Hey, we built that.'"

Bell Street Park is currently the main venue for city events and festivals, often coinciding with holidays. With the construction of the new play space, KaBOOM! project manager Brenna Hull believes that the park will become "not just a three-times-a-year family place, (but) an everyday family place."

"People from all walks of life will use this space," Interim Chief of Police Steve Belcher said. "It will be a safe place for the community to gather."

East Palo Alto resident Casey Jackson enjoyed "seeing the community come together" to complete the park's transformation.

"It's a change that's been long needed," he said.

After multiple cheers, hugs and high-fives among volunteers during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the playground's completion, co-founder Michele Boal remarked, "It's truly the power of we."

The playground will officially open to the public on Saturday, Sept. 6, with a grand opening event at 9 a.m.

Watch a video of Wednesday's event.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2014 at 10:52 am

KP is a registered user.

Wow! That's Great!!
Congrats to EPA and the volunteers that worked on this project!!
Palo Alto should hire the planning people from this project for future projects - They may have had the Mitchell Park Library done in a year!!

Like this comment
Posted by Kudos
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2014 at 10:56 am

What a great effort. Just goes to show what some organization and grit can accomplish. All these volunteers who came together to make this playground happen in one day should be so proud of what they've done for the children and the community. Impressive!

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 21, 2014 at 11:47 am

Wow! Great news and thanks to all the volunteers for this community effort.

Like this comment
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 21, 2014 at 1:29 pm


Maybe Palo Alto could hire them to complete the 9 YEAR study of single traffic light. Bet Mitchell Park Library wouldn't have been 2 YEARS late with them.

Like this comment
Posted by Keep Drug Dealers out of it
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Hope the drug dealers do not take over as they did before. Police should make many rounds to keep them away so kids have a safe place to go and play.

Like this comment
Posted by IM
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 25, 2014 at 11:36 am

Bein an EPA resident for many years, this brings me joy to know that East Palo Alto has and will continue improving in many ways. Thank you to the volunteers who came together to make this playground possible. Looking foward to have my children enjoy this wonderful park!

Like this comment
Posted by Cynthia Bojorquez
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 2, 2014 at 6:25 pm

The community is invited to join us as we celebrate the grand opening of the new Bell Street Park Playground and Mural unveiling on Saturday, September 6 from 9-10:30 a.m. Now complete with slides, swings, climbing walls, shaded rest areas, picnic tables and vibrant artwork, Bell Street Park is a picture perfect play space for the entire family. Come out and play in EPA as we take this opportunity to thank KaBOOM!, employees and the hundreds of EPA residents whose hard work made this project happen! For more information, contact Cynthia Bojorquez at 650.853.3153.

Like this comment
Posted by concerned parent
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 3, 2014 at 1:37 am

First I want to say thanks to all that helped.Good job.But Hopefully the city keeps it clean. Jack Farell Park play ground needs a power washing. Took my kid there for the first and last time. Hella dirty. Graffiti tagged in the slide area. City workers too busy cutting the grass only. Just a power wash once a month. Come on now. Keep it clean for our kids...

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Peek inside the fine-dining Selby's, opening in Redwood City this summer
By Elena Kadvany | 6 comments | 4,737 views

If you do nothing else, do These Three Things
By Sherry Listgarten | 28 comments | 1,945 views

Premarital and Couples: "You're Not Listening to Me!" may mean "I don't feel heard."
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,286 views

Lentil Brownies
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 408 views

Finding Balance
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 237 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.