Thousands of Sedalians visit the city’s parks every year, but some citizens are a little more destructive than others during their visits.
Parks and Recreation Director Mark Hewett said the number of park vandalism cases varies each year. He said “it’s a lot of little stuff, some big things,” but those incidents come with a large price tag — Hewett said Parks Superintendent Dave Moore has estimated the department spends between $20,000 and $25,000 in labor and materials to fix vandalism each year.
Vandalism tends to pick up during the spring and summer months and the popular venue of choice at the moment is park bathrooms.
“A thing I don’t think people don’t understand, it’s not just the materials, it’s the labor,” Hewett said. “They might break into a concession stand and they may not take anything but they break through the roll-top window and those are a couple thousand dollars and we’ll have to call out someone at night or a weekend and first thing we have to do is secure the facilities.”
During one instance, a concession stand was broken into and only 12 candy bars were stolen, but it cost the department thousands of dollars in employee overtime and material costs.
Hewett asked for patience from park-goers who notice missing fixtures or a project that hasn’t been completed. Sometimes maintenance projects aren’t completed on time because Parks maintenance workers have to put a project on hold to repair a vandalism incident.
He also asked for the public’s assistance.
“If the people see something, they’ve got to help us,” he said. “Please call and give your location and what the kids are doing and the police will try to respond as quickly as possible.”
Hewett said there isn’t much that amazes the department anymore — maintenance workers frequently replace paper towel dispensers, toilet paper holders and toilets as well as repair bathroom and concession stand doors and remove graffiti. The department replaced about 17 paper towel dispensers in a less than six-month period in Katy Park alone, which Hewett estimated cost a total of $1,100.
“If people go in the bathrooms and don’t see paper towels it’s because we can’t keep them in there,” Hewett said. “… I asked the Park Board several meetings ago if we should close (the bathrooms earlier) or just strip them down (and include less fixtures). They said to strip them down but don’t close them — we’re punishing the people that are good to them.”
Playground equipment and benches are also often damaged and Hewett said there was even a case where subjects stole the nets from soccer goals. Frequently dirt, rocks and pool equipment are thrown into the Liberty and Centennial pools.
Both pool slides were damaged two years ago and a sizable amount of money was spent to repair them. A security system has been installed in the pool areas, but Hewett noted it can be hard for Sedalia Police Department officers to catch vandals in the act.
Small fires are also frequent problems, as vandals like to set fire to the toilet paper holders in the park bathrooms.
“We’re also finding several times they set the toilet paper roll on fire so it burns up,” Hewett said. “We had a fire at Liberty Park a few weeks ago and we had a truck from the fire department come out because the smoke was coming out of the eaves. It scorches the wall so we have to replace the wall board.”
To help combat the vandalism problem, the Parks and Recreation Department is looking into installing additional security cameras in various parks. The Park Board also recently approved the purchase of a new security vehicle and a used security vehicle for use by the department’s four security guards.
“I think (the Park Board) made it clear during the last meeting they want to focus on vandalism,” Hewett recalled. “… The police work great with us, but you can see the park — there’s any way in and any way out. It’s just not easy. We’ve been increasing slowly the security budget each year … to at least derail it a little bit.”
Vandals be warned — the department assigns community service to the vandals caught by security guards and Moore doesn’t make it easy. Those caught are given trash duty.
“You lift up the 55-gallon (trash cans) up over your head and dump them in a dumpster,” Hewett said. “We’ve caught some (vandals) and we work them. They get up early in the summer. If we catch them, we want them to do community service right here in our park system — pick up the trash, see firsthand what it causes. I think that’s important. A couple of them have come back and said ‘we just didn’t understand.’ These facilities are for them, they’re damaging what’s theirs.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.