Park protection a concern

WESTFIELD – Today’s dedication of the Great River Bridge project and the impending completion of the Park Square renovation have some city officials focusing attention on what can be done to protect the investment made to the parks associated with the two projects.
Police Sgt. Steve Dickinson, the commander of the department’s community policing unit, said that he is concerned, particularly about damage to the new granite and concrete which can be caused by skateboarders at the new Half Mill Falls Park on the north side of the Westfield River in the shadow of the new bridge project; the park across from it on the other side of the river; and the one at Park Square.
He said that currently police respond frequently to complaints from banks and other businesses about youths who ride skateboards outside their business and cause damage to their steps and approaches. Dickinson pointed out that, while the damage each skateboarder makes may be minuscule, the cumulative effect of the chips and scratches is significant to structures that will be in place for decades.
“We don’t want people ruining our $30 million or whatever project” he said.
Jim Blascak said that the Parks and Recreation Department does not currently have rules restricting use of skateboards in city parks but said the subject is on the agenda for the meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission in July.
In the meantime, Dickinson said that he is urging his fellow officers to enforce a city ordinance, Chapter 16, Article III, Section 16-135, which bars “any instrument intended to convey or transport persons or things” from city sidewalks.
It is his interpretation that, since a park is adjacent to a roadway, a walkway in a park is a sidewalk. He recommends that persons found riding skateboards or razor scooters in the park be cited and their skateboards be seized as evidence.
He said that ultimately “it’s up to a judge” to determine if the ordinance applies inside a park and if a skateboard is intended to “transport persons or things.”
Kenneth Magarian, the chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said “all this is new” and the commission will deal with any problems that arise.
“Let’s see how things go and, if we need to create some rules or regulations, that’s what we’ll do” he said.
And Dickinson will have technological help enforcing the ordinance in the form of video surveillance of the parks.
In one case this year police were able to watch a video display in the station to see a construction worker at the bridge sell a package of marijuana to a local youth and police have already responded several times after youths have been seen on the live video feed from the parks.
Officer Kerry Paton was sent to Half Mile Falls Park Thursday afternoon after a police dispatcher saw a skateboarder at the park.
Paton reports that, after he spoke with a youth with a skateboard and sent him on his way, he was approached by a construction worker who showed him a ten foot section of railing which had been damaged, apparently by skateboard use.
On an earlier occasion, fountains at the park were seen to be overflowing with soap bubbles shortly after youths were advised to leave the park. In another incident, police found that the spray heads on a fountain had been tampered with so the fountain’s spray landed outside the boundary of the fountain.
Unlike many of the city’s parks and playgrounds which close at dusk, the new parks will be open until 10:30 because they are illuminated.
A city ordinance mandates that parks that are not illuminated at night are closed at dusk, but the new parks are lighted at night and are thus open to the public until 10:30 p.m.
The ordinance also allows parks at which there is an event sanctioned by the parks department to remain open until a half hour after the event ends.
That will probably not apply to Half Mile Falls Park, Blascak said.
“I can’t imagine it’s going to be a place where they’re going to be holding concerts or events like that” he said and said that the same is true at the park across the river.
At Park Square, he said, there may be events after dark – but not this year.
“It wouldn’t be this summer, the grass isn’t ready” he said. “If BID (Business Improvement District) or WOW ( Westfield on Weekends) is going to be having any concerts I think the Church Street Commons will be used for that” Blascak said.

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