Berkeley plans overdue renovation of Totland playground

Berkeley’s Totland playground, which parks staff concede has been neglected recently, will get a makeover this year. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Fans of Berkeley’s beloved Totland will be delighted to know that its current dilapidated state will soon be a thing of the past.

The Virginia-McGee playground will undergo renovations later this year to replace a deteriorating climbing structure and faulty drainage system.

Per community members’ requests, the preliminary design avoids major changes to Totland, a 16,000-square-foot park with a large grassy area, sand play area and recreation building decorated by a colorful mural.

“It will look fairly similar but hopefully it will be cleaned up a lot,” said principal planner Deborah Chernin. “It will be easier to maintain and it will be safer.”

Shoring on rotting areas of Totland’s play structure has kept it usable in recent months. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

In recent months the parks department had all but given up on general upkeep of Totland, said Parks Recreation and Waterfront director Scott Ferris.

“The park had become such a problem, with the drainage and the sand, that we’d just stopped maintaining it. All we did was do the best we could,” Ferris said. “The park is going to be in better shape for a longer period of time because of the eliminated maintenance issues.”

The new design keeps the muted color scheme, monkey bars, slide, and a slightly smaller sand area, but addresses drainage problems that cause water to collect in dips in the rubberized surface and rot the wood. The play area will be regraded so the water is directed to drain inlets. The new play structure will be wooden like its predecessor, but metal sleeves that go underground will prevent water damage even if the new drainage system fails.

“We’ve known it’s been a need for a long time,” said Chernin. “We finally have money to do a real renovation instead of just repairs.”

The $330,000 project is funded entirely by 2008’s bond Measure WW, which gave Berkeley $4.8 million to spend on parks projects over 10 years.

The city began planning Totland renovations a year ago, but the project went on hiatus for several months after the project manager quit. It began again in earnest in September with a meeting on site and community feedback sessions. The project is slated to go out to bid in the summer and construction will likely happen in the fall, Chernin said.

The city began planning Totland renovations a year ago, but the project went on hiatus for several months after the project manager quit. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

At public meetings several months ago, Totland visitors asked the project planners to keep as many of the park’s current features as they could. When the preliminary design was presented at a community meeting in December, “there was general support overall,” Chernin said.

Some community members expressed disappointment about elements of the design. Ellen Dressman, a neighbor who raised her daughters at Totland and now brings her granddaughter to the park, said she is concerned about the off-gassing and odor from the installation of the rubberized surface.

Chernin said the planners are considering using a synthetic turf instead of a rubberized surface to avoid off-gassing.

Shoring on the rotting areas of the play structure has kept it usable in the meantime.

Measure WW has funded several other park development projects in Berkeley, including Aquatic Park habitat restoration, Ohlone dog park renovation and picnic area improvements across the city.

View the proposed conceptual plan for Totland.

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Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously a reporter for Berkeleyside.