A construction project at Grove Park, pictured here on Oct. 17, was originally slated for completion in November 2016, but is now expected to be done in December 2017. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

South Berkeley residents have wondered why a supposedly four-month construction project at Grove Park still looks far from complete more than a year after it began.

The project will bring new, better-lit tennis courts and renovated basketball courts to the Oregon Street and Martin Luther King, Jr., Way park. Renovations and accessibility upgrades on the bathroom, landscape work and drainage system improvements are underway there as well. The softball field, slated for renovations after the current work is complete, has remained open throughout the project.

Funded by the regional Measure WW and Measure F, the city’s parks tax, the roughly $1.1 million construction project began in August 2016 and was expected to wrap up that November. Instead, the construction site still looks mostly bare and there have been stretches of time recently where little visible progress has been made.

A number of unexpected hurdles have contributed to the delay in construction, said Matthai Chakko, a spokesman for the city.

“The major thing was the tremendous amount of rain,” he said. The unusually wet winter stalled the project significantly.

The ballfield at Grove Park has remained open throughout construction on the tennis and basketball courts. It will be renovated next. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

There were also “unforeseen site conditions,” such as the discovery of a second slab of concrete under the top layer, he said. The contractor, Integra Construction Services, also “had some issues,” said Chakko, but he declined to elaborate. Earlier this week, a page on the city website that has since been edited and updated listed additional challenges that have delayed the project, including the replacement of a subcontractor, sub-standard work, and design and labor agreement clarifications.

Chakko said city staff members are unhappy with the pace of the project too, but expect the work to be completed in December. The finished product will include three new tennis courts and two and a half basketball courts renovated with a more durable surface, as well as a new electrical system and LED lighting, accessible bleachers and gates, better drainage and a bioswale, which filters pollutants out of storm water.

“While the delays are frustrating to us, we’re excited about what the park will be when it’s done,” Chakko said. “Virtually every element will be improved. It’s going to be a lot more accessible.”

Meanwhile, neighbors have grown annoyed that a well-used park has been out of commission for so long.

“No amount of rain from last year could delay the project this much,” wrote resident Teresa Clarke in a recent letter to Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilman Ben Bartlett, which she posted on NextDoor. “And with the rains expected to start again soon, there are no signs of imminent completion.”

Gaps in the temporary fencing around the construction site at Grove Park have raised concerns about safety. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Neighbor Mark Quady commented that his 3-year-old son was using the park almost daily, learning to ride a bike and play basketball, when construction began.

Both said the temporary fencing around the park, which has been torn, bent and raised in several locations, has raised safety concerns for them. Clarke said she witnessed a mugging at the site, where the attacker used the unsecured fencing as “a hiding place.”

“The temporary fencing has been a horrible hazard, where I have tripped on the concrete blocks and almost had the fence knock into me when walking due to wind,” Quady wrote.

City staff visited the site with the contractor last week to begin closing the gaps in the fencing, Chakko said.

“There are projects that encounter problems,” he said. But the city is proud of the on-schedule completion of 12 other projects at city parks over the past two years, Chakko said, including work at the Willard Tot Lot, the Rose Garden, James Kenney Park, the city’s summer camps and elsewhere.

The second phase of construction at Grove Park, the renovation of the ball field, will begin once the tennis and basketball court work is complete. That project is expected to cost around $1 million to $1.2 million, and will be funded by revenue from measure T1, the $100 million infrastructure bond measure passed by voters in 2016.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...