Now that Deirdre Morrisey’s 6-year-old son is at an age where he wants to play sports, she’s finding it difficult to find space for him to zoom around.

“He is a huge sports fan. It was football this year, and when he was in kindergarten, the Giants won the World Series and he became an instant baseball fan,” she said. “His big thing right now is basketball. It would be fun for him and a couple of friends to shoot hoops.”

Just across from her home is Marshall Elementary School, where during the week students run, dribble and jump on the open playground. It offers more than adequate space, but come 3 p.m., and on the weekends, the playground is closed. The census counts 580 children living within a four-block radius, but none can get in. Morrisey and others want to change that.

“Other schoolyards are opened, and those neighborhoods have even more access to parks and play space,” she told Mission Loc@l in an email. “It is really sad and inequitable that we have this great space completely underused. We don’t need a new playground or fancy equipment — just someone with a key.”

Someone with a key is proving hard to find. Not only does the Mission have one of the city’s lowest rates of open space, it was also left out of the School Playgrounds as Community Hubs, a 2007 initiative that initially opened playgrounds at 12 schools — one in each district, including Cesar Chavez Elementary in the Mission. Since then, the program has been scaled back to just seven schools, and Cesar Chavez’s playground has been closed. District representatives say it had to be closed for construction and that it will be reopened, but a spokeswoman offered no opening date.

“In the northeast Mission, occupancy is to the extreme,” said Oscar Grande, the executive director for People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), which has been active in a 10-year initiative to develop a park at 17th and Folsom. “You have a lot of folks locked in tiny spaces with no access to open space.”

It was the planned Folsom Street park that Supervisor Jane Kim told Morrisey about when she asked for help. The problem: Construction won’t begin until spring 2013.

When it is built, the park will help ease the stark reality of the neighborhood’s lack of open space. There are only .36 acres of open space per 1,000 residents within a half-mile radius of the proposed park, compared to the city’s average of 6.7 acres of open space per 1,000 residents.

Morrisey, who lives within that half-mile radius, sees the Marshall playground across the street from her house as a faster solution, but so far her efforts have gone nowhere.

The school district had to scale back its playground program because of construction in those schools, said district spokesman Chris Armentrout.

There’s also the cost: $30,000 a year in maintenance, insurance and other liabilities per school playground.

Still, Grande and others feel that Mission kids have been unfairly prevented from playing outside.

“At the moment, 3 percent of the general fund goes to open space,” Grande said. “When budget cuts happen, they happen across the board, and we feel there is no equity.”

Grande remembers when the playhouse at Parque de Ninos Unidos on 23rd and Folsom streets was open seven days a week; now, due to budget cuts, it is open only three days a week. Renting space at the playhouse can cost upwards of $200, which can be a burden to many families, Grande said.

District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents the Marina, held a fundraiser in October to possibly add more schools to the program that keeps playgrounds open on weekends.

“As a native San Franciscan, I grew up playing sports at parks and playgrounds throughout the City,” Farrell wrote to potential donors. “One of the fondest memories of my childhood was playing basketball at the local schoolyard with my father and, as I grew older, playing strikeout at the same schoolyard with my friends. Unfortunately, due to significant budget constraints, today most of those playgrounds and schoolyards are closed on the weekends. I hope to change that with your help and support.”

Farrell’s office is working with the school district to determine which schools to open, said Margaux Kelly, a legislative aide to Farrell.

Currently, youth and adults alike climb the fences of several schools, including Marshall, to play basketball and other sports, advocates and residents told Mission Loc@l.

Zaren Levien, a former teacher at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, remembers families, skaters and others using the space when the school opened the playgrounds on weekends.

“The city would just open the gates in the morning. There is not a lot of maintenance,” she said. “It was a positive thing.”

Morrisey said she hopes the school district takes a hard look at opening up Marshall Elementary on the weekends.

“If I see my kid playing with other kids, then the parents get to know each other,” she said. “I think it would be a great way to build community.”

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Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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  1. I live right by there and it breaks my heart to see neighbourhood kids (trying) to play football or catch on the sidewalks, while the drunk and destitute stagger around them. Kudos to Deirdre for trying to be a force of change in the community rather than fleeing the city.

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