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Behind schedule and a few million dollars over budget, the Dolores Park renovation project is moving ahead, with construction slated to begin in January when the entire north half of the park between 18th and 19th streets will close for an estimated six months.

Bidding for the construction contract kicked off last month, said Jake Gilchrist, project manager for San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department. Bids are due early this month.

“Once bids come in and we’re confident that we have a qualified, responsive bidder, I will schedule another community open house to detail the phased closure and reopening schedule,” Gilchrist said. He hopes to plan the meeting for the first or second week of December.

At that meeting, Gilchrist said he will show the community that their input has been incorporated into the plans. He will also update community members about the construction phases.

The expected cost for the renovation will rise between $2 and $4 million from the original $11.7 million approved for the project as part of a 2008 bond, Gilchrist said. Bond contingency funds will cover the cost overrun.

The strong economy means that contractors aren’t struggling for work as they had been in recent years. That means the city is competing against other projects for a contractor’s time. “Had we been able to go out to bid a year ago as planned, we could have saved significant dollars,” Gilchrist said.

Part of what slowed down the renovation planning process was an 11-month environmental review by the city’s Planning Department, as reported in Mission Local’s previous coverage.

The construction will happen in two main phases, beginning with the north half of the park. The playground, which was renovated separately and was completed last year, will stay open during the renovation. Once the north half of the park is complete, a month will be spent building a path from the 19th Street corridor to the playground. After that, the second main construction phase will begin, at which point the south half of the park will close for an estimated six more months.

The idea for the renovation of the roughly 14-acre park is to change it as little as possible, Gilchrist said. Construction will improve the infrastructure and functionality of the park, while leaving the look and feel the same. “The bulk of the changes are going to feel invisible,” he said.

Those changes include two new restroom buildings, one near the playground and one near the basketball courts, plus a pissoir near the MUNI tracks in the southwest corner of the park. Also planned are two off-leash dog play areas, one just north of the playground and the other along Dolores Street between the tennis courts and 19th Street.

A new multiuse court will be added next to the tennis courts, and a new operations building will be constructed under the basketball court. The existing clubhouse will be removed.

Because people regularly use the southwest corner of the park near 20th and Church streets as a spot to take in the view of the city, Gilchrist said a new overlook with decorative paving and benches will be installed there to make it easier to use.

Additionally, a central, accessible path will connect all areas of the park, and upgrades will be made to the irrigation, drainage and lighting systems.

Robert Brust, steering committee chair of Dolores Park Works, a community group in support of the park, said he’s happy the city and community could come together on a plan that won’t significantly change the iconic park.

Brust called the community involvement in the planning process, which began in the spring of 2011, “extraordinary.” There have been at least 15 public meetings and workshops, as well as dozens of smaller focus-group meetings and two community open house meetings.

“It’s still going to be the Dolores Park we’ve all known and loved,” Brust said.

Brust is hoping for a seamless renovation process, and, once finished, he thinks the new look of the historical park will give visitors a totally new perception.

Though the vast majority of the park’s visitors are respectful, Brust said, community members will need to work together to keep the park clean and undamaged once the renovation wraps up. “It doesn’t take much — it takes a couple of little parties and one crazy person and you’ve got some serious damage,” Brust said. About a year ago, for instance, someone cut down a palm tree with an ax, he said.

“Everyone has to look out for our park. Don’t go walking up to people if you think they’re going to get belligerent, but set a good example — try to pick up your trash and other people’s trash and I think it’ll be just fine.”