By Thomas K. Pendergast
The students at the Presidio Middle School on Geary Boulevard start off the school year with a new playground area, thanks to a donation by the founder and CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff.
The $5 million project is in addition to an $18.2 million grant by Salesforce that will be split between the Oakland and San Francisco school districts, which in turn is a part of an ongoing series of grants that the company has been donating over the last few years.
”We still strongly believe at Salesforce that we’re here for all of our stakeholders, not just our shareholders. We’re here to serve our communities,” Benioff told students recently. “Giving every child an equal opportunity to a world-class education is a critical step to bringing more equality, stability and growth into our communities and it cannot be the work of government alone. Everyone has a role to play, including business, and that’s why Salesforce has provided nearly $70 million in funding and 45,000 volunteer hours in the San Francisco and Oakland school districts.”
A spokesman for the SF Unified School District (SFUSD), Chris Armentrout, said the idea started in August of 2015, when Benioff was visiting the school to announce more grants were coming from Salesforce.
“He had asked the kids, ‘What is it that you would like to do?’ and one of the suggestions was, ‘We would like to see a new playground.’ And so that began the process,” Armentrout said. “Marc Benioff, to his credit, was really great about making sure that his team was engaging the community, getting the kids, along with parents, to form their own kind of task force on the brainstorming of it and bringing together the ideas and the conceptualization of it.”
Between August of 2015 and June of 2016 was what he described as the development phase.
The architecture work and the process for getting permits were undertaken during the 2016-2017 school year, followed by two years of construction work. The designer was Ron Holthuysen of Scientific Art Studio. His previous work includes the playground area at the San Francisco Zoo.
“Prior to this work, it was really a barren kind of space. It had a few basketball hoops, a lot of concrete and not much more, frankly. It wasn’t really inviting. It wasn’t attractive,” Armentrout said.
The project was completed this past summer. Although the students were able to enjoy it on the first day of the current school year, the official opening ceremony was on Sept. 12.
The playground is divided into two zones. In one zone, there is a courtyard with boulders placed around in a decorative setting.
“It’s a very attractive area for the kids to sit and enjoy their lunch and just kind of lounge around. You’ve gone from gray, tired concrete to a much more attractive clay-colored surfacing,” Armentrout said.
The other side of the school yard, near the corner of Geary Boulevard and 29th Avenue, has been painted, plus a refinished surface and new basketball courts have been installed. Also, they have a miniature baseball diamond set up for dodge ball games.
In the other corner, near Geary Boulebard and 30th Avenue, there is now a green center space with a paved running track around it. Next to that is a new jungle gym in a playground area.
The only thing that is still original in the yard is a flag pole that sits in the center. Built around it is paved decking with a railing and benches for the children to sit and artificial trees for shade.
Also included are new colored concrete walkways and walls, an artificial turf field with cork infill, redwood planters in the garden area with decomposed granite pathways, a bicycle storage room and a new bronze “panther” sculpture. The artificial trees are stainless steel with colored polycarbonate disks, and a stainless steel trellis with the same kind of disks. Plus there are new stainless steel handrails and cedar seating benches.