WALLINGFORD — The Town Council this week had more questions about the town’s parks, and expressed dismay that the newly reconstituted Parks and Recreation Commission has decided to meet quarterly rather than monthly.
Town Councilor Craig Fishbein requested the discussion with Parks and Recreation Director Kenny Michaels that focused on poor conditions at some of the parks, including a slide presentation from two council members who recently visited five of the parks and documented the experience with pictures.
The condition of town parks has come under scrutiny after an arson fire at Doolittle Park left the playscape heavily damaged. Before that questions were raised over the safety of the parks after two minors got into a physical fight with a coach at the same park.
Council members Joseph Marrone and Christina Tatta visited five of the parks, “just to get an idea” of the conditions there. “This isn’t strictly about safety, and this is not just a rec department issue either,” Marrone said. “This has to do with police, it has to do with public works. Poorly maintained facilities attract vandalism and discourage legitimate use. I think if you tour the parks, you’re going to see a lot of vandalism. Maintaining public parks is a basic function of government.”
At Lufbery Park, under the slide there it’s plain dirt, Marrone said, and there are wires dangling at the pavilion. At Community Lake Park, there is damage to the swing set, there are more dangling wires at the park building and fairly large cracks in the tennis courts.
At Westside Field, the scoreboard has been vandalized and there is a broken pole.
There’s a lot of graffiti on the park buildings and there are holes in one of the structures, Marrone said. “You can hear the critters moving around inside,” he said. There also is no net on the volleyball court, Tatta said.
And there is the “famous building that nobody likes” at Doolittle, Marrone said. “Again, there’s dangling wires, lot of graffiti, lots of holes in the building, the same thing you’re seeing all over the place.”
On the building there is a sign placed by the Rotary Club advertising businesses who donated to construct the building, which the Rotary donated to the town in 1991.
“This is an example of where we were advertising some of the donors of the item, which I think is entirely appropriate,” Marrone said. “Advertising in the parks is something we have conceived of in the past and could be a way to pay for some of these improvements. I’m not sure if our budgetary structure we have now year to year is going to address a lot of these concerns. I think we need to look at something a little bit bigger in terms of multi departments and what’s the plan and how we are going to finance this in the future.”
Community Pool also is an issue that is not going to go away, Marrone said.
“The Community Pool is empty and is kind of messy and it is going to remain that way until we come up with the money to do something different with it,” he said. “If we are never going to do anything with it, maybe you sell it, or maybe you put another building up or you do something completely different, but I hate to see these sort of spaces left deteriorating and taken apart piece by piece because we don’t want to spend the money to invest in them.”
After working for more than a year on plans to renovate the pool into a recreation complex, parks and recreation members gave up after Mayor William Dickinson Jr. indicated the town couldn’t afford the project. It’s now estimated it would cost $8.5 million to do the project, which has been suggested come from the ARPA money the town received from the federal government.
Fishbein asked Michaels if there is any manual of park safety standards, to which Michaels said none he was aware of.
“Do you know if there is a manual of standards because I saw some stuff there that wouldn’t be allowed on a residential property?” Fishbein said. “I’m trying to figure out, is there a book that I can go buy that says that holes in the middle of concrete stairs is appropriate.”
“I have no idea,” Michaels replied.
Michaels said he inspects the parks routinely for problems. When he finds problems, he notifies Public Works Director Rob Baltramaitis, who then sends out crews to rectify the problems. But it has become an exercise in futility in some cases, he said.
“We’ll cover up the graffiti at Doolittle, and within two days we’ll get a call, ‘Hey, they graffitied the building again.’ So then we’ve got to go and repaint the building.”
The Parks and Recreation Department is dependent on the Public Works Department to do the work because Parks and Recreation doesn’t have the staff necessary to do it, Michaels said. In a perfect world, he would have a crew of at least four full-time employees, plus the necessary equipment, to do the work within the parks department, he said.
On Nov. 9, the Parks and Recreation Commission held an organizational meeting with its new members. At that meeting, commissioners decided to meet quarterly rather than monthly because they predict the workload won’t warrant monthly meetings.
The commission will meet next year on Jan. 11, April 5, June 14 and Nov. 8.