SAN FRANCISCO — Mayor Edwin Lee joined Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (RPD), Department of Public Works (DPW), the Betty Ann Ong Foundation, San Francisco Parks Alliance and park and community advocates on July 14 to open and dedicate the long-awaited Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center at the corner of Mason and Washington streets in Chinatown.
“Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center will serve the growing number of families in San Francisco by bringing a state-of-the-art facility into one of our oldest and most historic neighborhoods,” said Lee. “We are investing in the future of our neighborhoods and educating generations to come about the heroic acts of Betty Ong on Sept. 11.”
“San Franciscans recognized the need to upgrade this beloved recreation center after nearly 60 years of service to Chinatown,” said Chiu. “We are incredibly excited to open the center’s new doors and celebrate with the community.”
The old Chinese Recreation Center was a 22,000-square-foot, three-story concrete building built in 1951. For decades, it was a heavily used facility in the heart of Chinatown, serving one of the most densely populated neighborhoods of San Francisco. In 2008, the voters allocated more than $21 million to upgrade and repair the center, financed from the 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Park Bond.
“RPD has been working with the Chinatown community to plan and design a new recreation center that meets the unique needs of this vibrant neighborhood,” said RPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Now with the 2008 Parks Bond funding, we are able to turn our vision into a world-class recreation center to better serve our community.”
RPD in partnership with DPW facilitated a strong community design process with the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) and Asian Neighborhood Design (AND) to create a new facility built to LEED-Silver certification.
The center’s construction began in September 2010. Today, the new center has a building area of 24,234 square feet, growing by more than 1,000 square feet from the old center and providing improved program space, improved accessibility for everyone and addressing green building and code requirements. The project includes the partial replacement and full renovation of the recreation center, indoor gym, repairs and renovation of the basketball court, and children’s play area, restoration of existing pathways, upgrades to infrastructure, removal of barriers and improved accessibility and overall reconditioning of the park landscape.
“We’re proud to have designed this new recreation center,” said DPW Director Mohammed Nuru. “Built in one of the densest neighborhoods in the city, it will serve the vital needs of families in the Chinatown community. Also, by using green building design, energy efficient systems, and innovative water management for irrigation, the center will not only be fun and functional, but will be sustainable for years to come.”
Plant Construction is the contractor on the project. The original subcontracting goal for local business enterprise (LBE) participation was 23 percent, and Plant has exceeded the LBE participation to date with 26.8 percent. There are more than 50 subcontractors from various trades working on this project. The project is under budget by nearly $1 million.
In September 2011, as part of the “topping out” celebration where the last construction beam was placed at the top of the center, city officials buried a community time capsule that included mementos and pictures representing the Chinese Recreation Center and the Chinatown community, pictures drawn and letters written by Gordon J. Lau Elementary School students about growing up in San Francisco, and a San Francisco Giants baseball signed by the mayor.
Lee, in commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, had requested the RPD Commission to name the Chinese Recreation Center in honor of Ong, an American hero who grew up in Chinatown, attended San Francisco public schools and often played at center with her brother and two sisters.
Ong was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston bound for Los Angeles — one of the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center — and was the first person to report the hijacking. Her call led to air traffic controllers landing every plane flying over U.S. airspace on that day.
“The Ong family thanks Mayor Ed Lee and the San Francisco Park and Recreation Commission in naming the new center after Betty,” said her brother, Harry Ong. “It is an honor and tribute not only to Betty and her legacy but also for all the other victims and heroes who died on Sept. 11, 2001. The Betty Ann Ong Foundation would like to thank everyone for their generosity in supporting our fundraising effort to fully equip the new center.”
“We believe that when San Francisco gets it act together, we can really perform miracles,” said CCDC Executive Director Rev. Norman Fong. “The miracle in this case is finding a positive way to help families and seniors who live in the most densely populated community in California. Space is a luxury here and the rebuilt of Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center is now an oasis of community space.
“CCDC works with 600 families living in 8’x10’ single rooms where babies, kids and teens don’t have their own toilets, shower, kitchens or living rooms. We are feeling a lot of love from all San Franciscans who chose to care for our parks and history. The new center represents a little bit of heaven on earth!”