Rengstorff Park revamp could cost $139 million
Critical council wants more "realistic" park plan
City Council members appeared to back away from plans for a major revamp of Rengstorff Park on Tuesday, expressing shock at the price and the need to remove numerous large trees in the park.
The city had hired San Jose-based Anderson Brule Architects to create several possible concepts for revamping the park, including the replacement of the park's aging aquatics center and community center. There's the potential of adding a new indoor gym and new teen center into a cohesive design.
Four conceptual designs were presented to show what was possible, with cost ranging between $86.7 million and $139.6 million if built in 2021, when costs could increase by almost 50 percent, according to a city staff report. Three of the designs cost over $130 million.
In the designs, the Community Center, tennis courts and Aquatics Center were placed in different locations, usually around a large grass area, with different ways of connecting those buildings through new paths and landscaping to the new senior center and child care center on the eastern edge of the park.
Few positive comments were made by council members about any of the four designs, with some calling for a design that was more "realistic" and affordable. Some of the harshest remarks came from council member Margaret Abe-Koga, who said that she found herself "trying to recall why we embarked on this project."
"We need to talk about how we are going to finance this," Abe-Koga said.
Council member Laura Macias said Rengstorff Park is already a "gem" that many people love. "What we need to do is polish that gem," she said. Council member Tom Means added, "I don't think we schedule a lot of weddings there."
Council member Ronit Bryant said the main reason for revamping the park was to rebuild the city's 1964 Community Center.
"We have a community center that looks pathetic," Bryant said, adding that she wanted a community center that "lives up to the other facilities we have in town."
"We need to bite the bullet on this," said Bryant, who recalled that the city looked at building a new community center 10 years ago "and it was expensive then, too."
Bryant said the cost of the park was largely in the community center, and "massively in the parking," which may be built underground to maintain space in the park. Bryant said that much of the parking in the plan should be done away with to reduce costs.
"In 50 years we won't be driving cars anymore," she said. "We don't actually need to be driving everywhere. We can walk to the park."
Residents who spoke had varying opinions, with one woman saying through a translator that it was important to have a community center for people who couldn't afford activities elsewhere. Others said it was important to keep as much open space in the park as possible, and not build too many buildings.
"A big, big green lawn doesn't do anything for me," said Bryant, who said open spaces should have "places where you can do things, places where you can sit."
Councilman Means expressed support for a "promenade" concept, which made the community center a prominent feature of the park, moving it to the corner of Crisanto and Rengstorff with a Taj Mahal-like promenade stretching from it diagonally across the park towards the Senior Center.
The four concepts removed between 88 and 111 heritage trees, which are large trees, oaks, redwoods or cedars. Removing 111 would remove 30 percent of the park's heritage trees.
"I was kind of horrified by the removal of all the heritage trees," said Mayor Jac Siegel, echoing comments from other members and the public.
Council members were largely supportive of closing Crisanto Avenue to gain room for the park, saying that a grade separation for the train tracks at Rengstorff made closure of the street inevitable. "There is going to be grade separation someday so we might as well close Crisanto," said council member Mike Kasperzak. But Macias said closing the street would back up traffic on Escuela Avenue, especially when parents are trying to drop off or pick up their kids from Castro School.
The concepts had the option of placing a new teen center either in the former Rock Church building now owned by the city on Escuela Avenue, or in the new community center, possibly closer to a new skate park. Some concepts combined the Community Center and Aquatics Center.
In one concept, the park's tennis courts are removed from the corner they've been tucked into for years and moved to the northern edge of the park where the Aquatics Center now is.
"I don't know what is achieved by doing that," said Mayor Siegel.
The public works director said that possibly in December the project would be brought back to the Council after considering the feedback. Park plans would likely be proposed with a "phased approach."
Email Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org