It’s becoming an all too familiar problem, and frustration, for members of the Amherst Lions Club.
Vandals have again struck at the Lions Park on Hickman Street, causing several thousand dollars in damage, and the chairman of the club’s park committee is urging people to be more vigilant.
“It’s hard to ask organizations to invest this kind of money in the community when others go out and willingly cause damage to what we’re trying to do,” Rubin Millard said. “People have to be seeing what’s going on. All we’re asking is if you see something please call the police.”
The club, with the help of the Town of Amherst and other community partners such as the Community Credit Union, have invested thousands of dollars in the new Lions Park that replaced the former park further up Hickman Street that’s now home to West Highlands Elementary School.
There have been instances of vandalism almost from the time work started on park development. There has been damage to the tennis courts on several occasions as well as to the park benches and trees while recently rocks, or other objects, were thrown on the roofs of the shelters that house picnic tables.
The Lion that’s part of the playground equipment has been damaged on numerous occasions by someone sitting on it. Millard put a sign up asking people not to climb or sit on the Lion, but someone even damaged the sign.
The most frustrating act of vandalism included the destruction of a slide on the playground equipment.
“It looks like someone jumped up and down on it,” Millard said. “It can’t be repaired, it has to be replaced and it cost a lot of money.”
If the club had to do it, Millard estimated the cost would be more than $4,500. While the club replaced the slide, crews from the town installed the new slide on June 18 – saving the club some money.
Still, he said, the club and the town shouldn’t have to continually repair damage to the park.
The Lions and the town are taking some steps. The new building, that will house washrooms and a changeroom, will have lighting that will light up the playground equipment area while there will also be cameras with real-time video that can be checked by members of the Amherst Police Department.
Millard said replacing damage slows development of the park. This year, the plan is to finish the building while next year the club hopes to develop a splash pad and eventually a basketball court.
He suggested parents take more responsibility for what their children are doing.
“A lot of it is parents are not taking responsibility for their kids. They’re trying to be their buddies instead of their parents,” Millard said. “Our parents taught us you don’t destroy or you don’t do this. Parents have to realize if they want organizations to put money into something like this for their kids, then they have to take responsibility to teach them and come with them so they know not to be destroying these things.”
Work began on the multi-year project in 2016 with placement of playground equipment, a walking track, benches and a tennis court. Numerous trees were planted on the property and last year the Community Credit Union committed to $10,000 year for 10 years.
He said close to a half-million dollars has been invested over the last three years.
Amherst’s recreation director Bill Schurman said cameras and surveillance are part of the solution, but he said it’s also about the community taking ownership of that park and others in town.
“We’re not the only community that experiences this, but because it’s in the community it affects us all and makes us all uncomfortable about facilities that taxpayers or other organizations pay for,” Schurman said. “The part that’s being forgotten is prevention and education. We have to look at our neighbourhood and ask people to keep an eye on things.”
Schurman said there are neighbours at Dickey Park who are in constant contact with the town and/or the police when they see something out of the ordinary.
He said the town will continue to work with stakeholders like the Lions Club to address their concerns.
“Ninety per cent of the people are good, but it’s up to the 90 per cent to help educate the other 10 per cent about they’re disrespecting their own family when they disrespect the community,” he said, adding work is going with Restorative Justice and other stakeholders to raise awareness and educate people. “Cameras are a piece of the solution, but it’s not just about cameras and police.”