After nearly 24 years of continuous service, the old playground at Smith Park was in need of replacement. With the aid of KaBOOM!, the City worked with grant partner Asian Youth Center and funding partner The CarMax Foundation to design and build a new playground in just several months. Construction, with the help of local volunteers, would only take one day.
While the design and build of the playground was completed in just under two months, planning for the project can be traced back to November 2017. Staff from Community Services had been exploring grants for new playground equipment, and came across KaBOOM! as a potential partner. Known for building or revitalizing playspaces with the assistance of private funding, KaBOOM! had expressed an interest in supporting a new playground in the region. For San Gabriel, Smith Park was chosen as a potential site due to its close proximity to the Asian Youth Center and its heavy use among the community. “It’s the second largest park in our community and it does get a lot of use between the summer programs, the proximity of the pool, and the home of our Easter and 4th of July program,” said Rebecca Perez, Community Services Director.
Once Smith Park was chosen, a grant application was sent to KaBOOM! for review. “KaBOOM! had told us that they liked our project and our application and that they would pursue funding opportunities,” said Perez. “They got us to the point where we were considered a shovel ready project.” As a shovel ready project, the City could quickly move forward with design and build phase once a funding partner was found. To ensure the project could move quickly, Community Services staff received preliminary approval from the City Council to move forward once the project received sufficient funding. After months of searching, a funding partner was found. “Right before Christmas, we had received a call from KaBOOM! asking if we were still interested,” Perez said. “We were thrilled to hear that The CarMax Foundation wanted to fund our project.”
“KaBOOM! had told us that they liked our project and our application and that they would pursue funding opportunities.”
Once a funding partner was established, kids from the surrounding community came together to imagine their dream playground using nothing more than their imagination, some crayons, colored pencils and a sheet of paper. Using concepts drafted by local kids, the design team took the best elements and incorporated them in the new playground. With a finalized design, staff from KaBOOM!, the Asian Youth Center and the City had only eight weeks to bring this design to fruition. “This timeline isn’t unusual for a KaBOOM! build, but we had never experienced something like this before,” Perez said. “KaBOOM! has this process down to a science, so this was a learning process for us.” To expedite the process, several committees were formed that would be tasked with construction, organization, promotion, logistics and play. These committees would then convene once per week over the phone to ensure the project was ready for build day on March 14.
The culmination of eight weeks of work, build day featured hundreds of volunteers working in unison to construct a new playground. While the City’s Public Works team worked to remove the old playground beforehand, construction of the new playground set was completed in under several hours, with volunteers moving large playground pieces into the play area throughout the day. Volunteers also worked together to construct new benches, paint existing park equipment and beautify the general space. Special guests from the L.A. Clippers also joined in on the fun, including members of the Clippers Spirit dance team and Chuck the Condor.
By mid-afternoon, the new playground had been completed. “For me, this was probably one of the best days of my career. It was such a rush to see the whole project take shape and culminate in a new play area for our community,” Perez said.
With the new playground now complete, Community Services has plans in the future to ask the City Council to approve a potential replacement to the north playground at Smith Park, separate from the KaBOOM! project. While talks still remain preliminary, City staff remain hopeful that future improvements will come to playgrounds across the City.