NEWS

Playground association tired of vandalism

PAT FRIDGEN
Chris Stevens, 18, Ronald Whitman Jr., 15, and Jacob Hahn, 14, and two other teens spent Monday afternoon at the Jerome R. King bandshell. They were disappointed that while they just like to hang out at the park, other people found it necessary to deface property.

Jerome R. King Playground is a community treasure, and the association in charge of its keep intends to retain it as a family-friendly, clean and safe place to visit. The executive committee took a proactive approach recently to help maintain the integrity of the 15-acre park on North Carlisle Street.

Mayor Robert Eberly informed borough council July 6 that the association had sent letters to individuals informing them they were no longer allowed on the property. Greencastle police had removed two of those people from the facility after it closed at dusk.

"They didn't leave peaceably," said Eberly. One officer received a minor injury from the scuffle.

Police chief John Phillippy later said the officer was treated for a hand injury but did not miss any work.

Phillippy also released a report that two people were arrested at Jerome King Playground at 10:35 p.m. July 1. Erick Jose Ortiz, 22, no fixed address, was taken into custody for defiant trespass, failure to disperse and disorderly conduct. At the same time, a 16-year-old juvenile was arrested for failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Ortiz was taken to Franklin County Jail and the juvenile was released to his father.

Committee

Because of ongoing vandalism at the playground, the volunteer committee decided to step up its efforts to protect the equipment and grounds. After consulting with the borough Public Safety Committee, the police department and a lawyer, it sent the letter to two people, banishing them from the playground for one year. If found within the borders, they would be prosecuted for trespassing. A member confirmed that Ortiz was one recipient of the letter.

The spokesman said they had the authority to limit access because of the status of the park, which is privately owned by the association. It is funded entirely by donations. They saw the letters as a last resort. They are contemplating a few more.

"It's a great place," the person said. "We know who is doing the vandalism, just a small group of teens and young adults."

The board was disheartened to discover that a good deed by a local business was damaged within 48 hours. On June 28 Daryl Reese donated three of his employees for a day. They painted portions of the restored grandstand and the Veterans Memorial Bandshell. On June 30 graffiti was found on the bandshell. Phillippy said he has already tracked down the juveniles responsible for the damage.

Community

The association is pleased with the support of the borough, police department, and Park and Recreation Committee formed for Greencastle's Five-Year Strategic Plan. They hope the community also takes the playground to heart and will do what it can to keep it a popular site for recreation. They don't want to see more of the most viscious vandalism which occurred last year. The bathrooms were destroyed, necessitating three portable toilets this year. The budget doesn't contain the thousands of dollars necessary to fix the restrooms.

"We just ask that if people can't approach the kids when they see bad behavior, they at least report it," said the spokesman.

They have seen that increased patrolling by police, either in a squad car, on a bicycle or on foot, has been helpful.

The park is still a welcoming place with something for all age groups. It has picnic pavilions, tennis courts, horseshoes, play areas for children, a softball field, baseball field, volleyball court, and a new T-ball field. The bandshell has been used for drama performances and concerts, and the goal is to provide more such opportunities.

The Jerome R. King Playground Association will continue its mission, as stated on its website: "This voluntary committee has a duty to maintain, make improvements and make additions to the Playground. The objective shall be maintenance of a public park and playground with facilities for athletic and other innocent sports and games as well as facilities for picnics and banquets for the residents of and visitors to Greencastle and Antrim Township."

The association consists of Kim Siner, Sue Miller, Lon Barkdoll, Tom Pensinger, Jody Bittner, Liz Keller, Richard Wright, Sara Hollinshead and Ralph Walck. The first section of the park opened in 1923.