Plans for a Central Park adventure village design to replace the current playground structure received unanimous support from the San Mateo City Council, praising the proposed design for a new generation of kids.

“I am so excited about the theme. It strikes me as very compatible with the natural beauty of the park,” Councilmember Amourence Lee said, praising plans for an accessible and inclusive project for all members of the public.

The adventure village design concept calls for a series of elevated towers and boardwalks so kids can be closer to trees and nature. The towers would stand alone and include a series of ramps and platforms to travel between towers. Some playground features suggested included a wizarding tower, hobbit house, elf tower and stone wall with a slide. Other options include an enchanted forest and a fairy garden. The tot and children’s area will be completely enclosed to keep kids in the area. Site amenities like bike racks, drinking fountains, picnic areas, benches and other details are still in the concept design phase. A new restroom would replace the existing one in a different location with better visibility. The city started working on options in 2019 before ramping up design considerations in 2021 following a delay due to COVID.

Central Park playground adventure village living

Lee suggested a robust water splash pad area near the El Camino Real side as a draw, although the city staff noted there could be constraints due to cost.

“Summers are getting hotter, and it would be so wonderful for families to have another place on this side to venture and get wet, especially because a lot of pools are closing early and September’s are getting hotter,” Lee said.

At the City Council’s Sept. 20 special meeting, Lief McKay with RRM Design Group from San Leandro said lots of wood designs would capture a forest feel.

“Everything’s small scale and inspired by fairy tales and magical forests,” McKay said.

A design concept called playful history with a theme of gardens, trees, a traditional carousel ride and a playhouse was discarded earlier in September by the Park and Recreation Commission. It met Sept. 1 and reviewed the preferred alternative, supporting the Adventure Village design. The Park and Recreation Commission suggested the path and the boardwalk be wide enough for wheelchairs and people stopping, more stair access points along the boardwalk, prohibiting bikes from accessing the boardwalk and more inclusive culture designs.

The new playground would be at the current site and replace the existing 27-year-old structure. Park renovation was a priority goal in the San Mateo Central Park Master Plan, a 2018 update aimed at preserving the 16-acre park’s history and better serving community needs. Previous city estimates suggested potential construction is at least two years out.

Adventure village playground design

Adventure village playground design.

Councilmember Joe Goethals asked Parks and Recreation staff if the process was going too fast and needed more outreach. Parks and Recreation Director Sheila Canzian said outreach in 2019 and 2021 showed broad public support because it fits into the park character.

“I think the consensus was pretty consistent in terms of people like this kind of feel,” Canzian said.

“I love it. It looks great,” Goethals said.

Mayor Eric Rodriguez approved of adventure living and called it a potential regional draw for San Mateo and other cities to play.

“I love it. When I look at a playground design, and I immediately want to go play there, I think that’s a sign of a great playground,” Rodriguez said.

Councilmember Diane Papan was excited about the theme to help foster creativity in kids.

“I’m crazy about it, and one of the things I like most about it is that it evokes creativity. There are so many different things to choose from that can draw out a particular child’s creativity,” Papan said.

Canzian said the city is also looking to preserve all unique trees in the area possible after questions on the topic from Deputy Mayor Rick Bonilla.

“I support it too. We have been at this so long, and we do need to make the improvements there, and if the parents and kids are having fun with this whole process, I’m sure it will be a great addition to Central Park,” Bonilla said.

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