Residents and politicians struggled Monday to come up with a way to draw children to the empty park in the middle of Hamilton Hill.
Neighbors told the Schenectady City Council that they’re too frightened to take their children to Jerry Burrell Park, but council members responded with a series of plans to add better playground equipment and build fencing.
More than 18 residents packed the small council room and muttered angrily as the discussion continued. Councilman Joseph Allen seemed disgusted by the end of the meeting, when he raised his voice and ordered city employees to make several changes to the park within three weeks.
The discussion began at the request of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which sent Christopher Dixon to speak for the neighborhood. He told the council that safety was the biggest problem at the park, which is notorious for use by drug dealers and was the scene of a murder last year.
“It’s a sad scene to be afraid to take your child to the park,” he said. “I don’t understand how we got to this point. We need to get on the same page.”
Other ACORN members tried to resolve misunderstandings from years past. In response to Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen’s complaint that children broke the water fountain when his workers fixed it several years ago, they explained that the fountain was never actually working.
“It was a new water fountain, but the problem was no one turned on the water,” said Richard Cook. “The water was not flowing. People get upset with things like that. If you’re a child or a young teen and you have a brand new fountain and you can’t drink out of it, I think you’d get upset too.”
Allen later ordered city workers to fix the fountain by July 7.
Council members then went on to discuss the need for new playground equipment — an issue Dixon hadn’t suggested in his opening remarks. They spent several minutes on a possible plan in which the playground would be moved to a leveled field near the pavilion, and then fenced so children could not chase balls into the street.
BATHROOMS AND SAFETY
Dixon tried to refocus the discussion on the issue of safety, but the council turned to the topic of bathrooms.
Olsen has kept the bathrooms locked after repeated vandalism. Dixon said the bathrooms should be open.
Then Olsen brought the conversation back to the issue of safety as he defended his decision to lock the bathrooms. Criminals will use the toilets to ambush others if they’re unlocked, Olsen said.
“People will feel unsafe going into a room that anybody can go into. Someone could be waiting for someone in there,” he said.
Dixon answered, “If you feel it’s unsafe to open that bathroom, you’re saying the park is unsafe.”
He asked for more frequent police patrols.
“There’s no way around it,” he said.
Councilwoman Denise Brucker told him that changes to the playground would be a better solution. She cited the recent success at Quackenbush Pool, where better lighting and fencing have reduced the number of children who sneak into the pool after hours.
That led the council to consider one safety measure requested by ACORN — motion-detector lights. But a city official said the lights would be useless.
“If people are in the park and not moving, the lights will turn back off, so I don’t know that you want to do that,” said John Coluccio, who is in charge of lights throughout the city.
ACORN members laughed at his response, but no council members spoke up in favor of the lights. Later, Allen put that issue on his list of things to be accomplished by the city within the next three weeks, but it was not clear whether Coluccio would install the lights or merely think about a plan for doing so.
In the end, only Olsen joined the residents in calling for safety measures at the park.
“It needs several amenities but it also needs to be monitored, needs to be safe,” Olsen said. “It’s going to require more than just money to fix it.”
Dixon was given one last chance to speak at the end of the discussion. He urged the police to enforce the dawn-to-dusk hours at the park by ticketing people found there after dark.
“You need to give them a couple tickets,” Dixon said. “Drop a couple tickets, you’re sending that message.”
Again, the council did not respond.
In other business, the council agreed to open the Woodlawn Preserve to pedestrians. However, city officials will first mark the trails and post a list of rules that include a ban on motorized traffic.
Swimming in the water-drainage pond will also be prohibited, but fishing will be allowed. The preserve may also be closed to all visitors at dusk each day.
More police officers will be trained to use motorcycles to patrol the preserve, Assistant Chief Mark Chaires said.
The preserve gets heavy ATV traffic by day and is a popular partying site at night. There are two obvious fire circles in the preserve, according to city officials, and the illegal uses are damaging the Pine Bush ecology.
“It’s quite a mess,” Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said.
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Categories: Schenectady County