Staying ahead of ongoing vandalism and theft in Aberdeen’s parks can be a challenge, but they won’t give up, parks officials say.
Parks & Recreation Director Karl Harris and Parks Maintenance Supervisor Craig Coic discussed the challenges at length, after the issue came up at a recent City Council meeting.
Parks most affected are the six that currently have public bathrooms: Morrison, Sam Benn, Franklin, Finch, Pioneer and the Bishop Athletic Complex.
“Our crew deals with vandalism, drug paraphernalia and sex paraphernalia at every restroom facility. We even have people stealing the bathroom hardware out of the restrooms. We are constantly tweaking (pun intended) with our schedule to try and maintain the restrooms in a safe and clean manner,” Harris said. To this list, he and Coic add graffiti and occasionally, fires.
Many of Aberdeen’s parks have been revamped, making them even more popular, particularly on sunny days. More people go to Sam Benn, with its new playground and disc golf, in one weekend than used to go there in one year, Harris said.
The needles and broken fixtures got so bad at Franklin Field, they decided to remove the restroom, which will be repainted and moved to Finch Playfield and Water Park, where someone broke one of the water features recently. Finch is where a new stainless steel container for disposing of syringes was vandalized, and discovered to be empty, while needles were found nearby.
Toilet paper and metal theft is the biggest problem at Bishop Athletic Complex, where expensive wiring for lighting has been stolen and a crowbar has been used to steal multiple rolls of toilet paper.
Pioneer is often tagged with graffiti and manhole covers are stolen from there. A fire was set in the toilet.
A storage shed at Morrison had to be removed because it was broken into so often.
Sam Benn has had broken doors, sinks, camp-style fires set, graffiti and a problem with needles. “We spend a bundle on locks,” Harris said.
Theft and vandalism have been “going on forever” in Aberdeen’s parks, so Harris does not want to sound like he’s whining when discussing the latest types that affect the city’s parks. “It’s part of our job.”
He sites records noting vandalism of trees and light poles in the city and parks by “hooligans,” dating back to the 1920s. Challenges of today, such as tagging and hypodermic needles seem different to Harris and Coic, who have the perspective of working for Parks and Recreation since they were teenagers in the 1970s.
Though mechanization has made upkeep such as mowing go faster, vandalism and theft is time consuming. In 1980, the department’s five full time employees and a cadre of federally funded volunteers serviced 80 acres. Today, there are two full time employees and a fluctuating number of part-timers who service more than 139 acres.
The annual budget for maintenance is around $100,000 per year. Figures are not broken out specifically for vandalism and theft, Harris said.
Crews find needles in the parks almost every day. Fortunately, Coic said, most are capped. Only twice has he found an uncapped needle, he added.
Stainless steel needle containers purchased for several hundred dollars expressly so drug users can drop dispose of their needles safely, have essentially not been used, they said.
Each park crew carries less costly portable “sharps” dispensers, plastic gloves and often use grabbers on a handle to retrieve the needles, Coic said. He warns his workers to wear protective gear and never to retrieve any trash without looking first and using tools, not their hands.
The portable containers, which Harris likened to “glorified Folger’s cans” are taken to the Aberdeen Fire Station for disposal.
Because the homeless and drug addicts often sleep in public restrooms, permanent ones are closed at some point in the afternoon, partially to protect staff who often found people camped there in the morning. After hours, portable toilets are used. Portables, such as one at Sam Benn, are cleaned by contractors at least twice a week, Harris said. Unfortunately, people often urinate and defecate outside the public toilets “to spite us,” he says.
Drinking fountains in parks are not going to be replaced, due to ongoing vandalism and the expense of repair and replacement.
Noting how tough it is to stay ahead of the vandals and thieves, Harris and Coic are determined to keep the parks well-maintained. “We are not going to give up trying to keep the restrooms clean and safe.” Harris said.
If you see a violation such as drug dealing being committed, call 911. If you find a sink or toilet paper rack broken, then call the police non-emergency number: 360-533-8765.
“Don’t assume someone else is going to call” and do not intervene, Harris said.
For a list of specific parks with restrooms and recent vandalism and theft there, please go to our website.
Most parks are open from dusk to 10 p.m. For a complete list of Aberdeen’s parks and park trails, check city hall’s website.
Here is a rundown of recent challenges with vandalism and theft at Aberdeen parks with public restrooms, according to Parks & Recreation Director Karl Harris and Parks Maintenance Supervisor Craig Coic:
West Market St.
This park attracts the most complaints, and has the most damaged restroom, which is boarded up. Vandals also broke the doors open. Needles were found and bathroom fixtures were vandalized so often, it was decided to close the bathroom structure. The area behind it was cemented to prevent stashing the needles, but needles were found behind and taped to the toilet.
Needles have been found here, and homeless and addicts have locked themselves in the bathrooms. A stainless steel sharps container was attached to the wall. Two weeks after it was installed earlier this summer, the cleaning crew saw needles about. Harris went to inspect the container and found “someone had tried to pull it off the wall.” It was damaged, and inside, no needles were to be found. Later, it was found destroyed.