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Presidio Middle School’s benefactor – Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff – to fund construction of new student-inspired playground

A conceptual rendering of a new playground at Presidio Middle School

The New York Times recently ran an article about Presidio Middle School. Back in 2015, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a billionaire well known for his local philanthropy, decided to adopt the school as a sort of personal volunteer project.

At a meeting with students, Benioff asked them to come up with a list of improvements they wished for the school. A bit later, Principal Thomas Ekno reported back the wishes of the students to Benioff: personal computers, better cafeteria food and a “funner environment” (er, maybe better grammar lessons too, lol).

Benioff whipped out his checkbook and personally financed 1,200 Chromebook laptops, one for every student in the school.

To address requests to make things “funner”, Benioff suggested the students participate in a club to work on a new playground design. He hired design firm Scientific Art Studio to collaborate with the students. The firm has designed some innovative playgrounds including one at the San Francisco Zoo.

Students from the Design Club! at work

A clay model made by the design club

The club’s work included ideation, clay modeling, sketch rendering, and working with architectural plans to refine the layout. Students took inspiration from California dunes, community gardens, and the ancient Greek’s agora, a public open space used for assemblies and markets.

After several months, the first design concepts from the club’s brainstorming were revealed, which transformed the 51,000 sq. ft. of pavement into outdoor spaces with gardens, tiered seating areas, a tree house and a rock-climbing wall. UPDATE 7/2/17: Grey Todd of the SFUSD provided us with a link to the most updated designs – download it here (PDF, 134MB).

Once the concept is final, Benioff plans to finance the construction of the playground. His hope is that his work with Presidio Middle School will provide a model for younger tech executives to personally work with schools.

Sarah B.

A proposed layout for the new playground

A closeup of the rendering showing a sports field, garden classroom, and a nature play area

Another closeup of the rendering, showing a stage area

11 Comments

  1. This is just fantastic news. Great to see local “mega-donors” take a sincere interest in local schools. Uplifting for both kids and parents.

  2. So is Mr Benioff going to set up an account, that the School District can’t touch, for the upkeep of the new play areas?
    Is he going to be buying every incoming class Chromebooks? For how long?
    How long is it going to take for some School Board member to figure out that a Presidio is a military fortification and try to get the school renamed after Benioff?
    I am a graduate of Presidio Junior High School.
    Panthers Forever

  3. So awesome – is that real grass? Hope so! Good on you, Marc!

  4. I went to this middle school way back in the 90’s
    I love the new look.
    Miss my old school good memories ??

  5. Both of my kids are at Presidio this year. It was very exciting to watch the Best Schoolyard in the Universe project unfold at school – it really woke up kids’ imagination! How awesome would it be to actually witness and have the parents and students participate in the building of this new schoolyard!

  6. Thanks, Grey. We added an updated link to the story.

  7. Tim
    Could you be any more misanthropic? If cynicism was an Olympic sport, you might not win gold but you’d certainly be on the podium. I know Marc and it wouldn’t surprise me if he continued paying for laptops. But even if he doesn’t, why not applaud him for what he’s done instead of whining. By the way, what have you contributed to your Alma-matter?

  8. Presido Middle School is in one of the best parts of the city. It is also one of the best performing schools in the city. His money could have gone to a school in a district where it is much needed, Francisco, Horace Mann to name a few. Disappointed with this choice.

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