Seymour Parks and Recreation Department officials have made the decision to close public restrooms in some city parks after recent costly incidents of vandalism.
Chad Keithley, parks operation director, said the amount of damage to restrooms at Gaiser Park and Kessler Park in the past month totaled nearly $1,000.
On Monday, he provided the parks board with a report of the damage and work being done to repair it.
At Gaiser, the closing mechanisms on both restroom doors were broken, dispensers were torn off of the wall and paper products and soap were removed from the dispensers.
A police report was filed, and after the department posted stills from security footage on social media, one juvenile confessed and completed 24 hours of community service for his involvement in the incident, Keithley said.
In a separate incident discovered Monday, one sink had the plumbing busted out and another sink was ripped off of the wall in those same restrooms, Keithley said.
The incident at Kessler involved damage to paper towel and soap dispensers and paper products shoved into toilets. Also, a syringe was found in the men’s restroom.
“It seems like it all happens during the weekends, during daytime hours, when the doors are automatically unlocked,” Keithley said. “We repair it one day, come back in and it’s the same thing the next day.”
The department can’t afford to keep repairing the restrooms, he said.
“If we can shut them down for a time, maybe we can get the public’s help in watching and trying to find who is doing it and what time frame they are doing it,” he said.
Originally, the restrooms were just going to be closed down until the needed parts to make the repairs come in, but after discussion with Mayor Matt Nicholson and approval from the parks board, those restrooms now will be locked down.
Signs will be posted on the doors informing park users the restrooms are inaccessible due to vandalism until further notice.
“I would absolutely agree with closing them with signage blaming the vandals,” said parks board member Bethany Rust.
Although vandalism in the parks isn’t new, Keithley said it seems to be a lot worse this year.
“It’s taxpayers that are having to pay for all of this,” he said.
Board member Tim Ferret said he doesn’t feel the restrooms are a high priority when compared to other services provided by the parks department.
“The bathrooms function similarly to any other provided space at the parks. Playground equipment can be abused. Bench seats can be broken,” he said. “If these things that are provided to the public are misused or abused, then they go on a list to be replaced. In the meanwhile, the restrooms or whatever is broken become unavailable, which is unfortunate, but hopefully, it motivates those who wish that things in the city were kept nice to contribute to that.”
Parents can help by teaching their kids, especially teenagers, to properly care for things, and the public can help by reporting any suspicious activity when it is observed, he added.
Keithley said he didn’t know how long the restrooms would be closed, but he had made the baseball/softball league that practices at Kessler during the week aware of the situation.
Parks board member Kendra Zumhingst suggested the city look into replacing the traditional porcelain sinks with metal sinks similar to ones at park facilities in Greenwood.
Keithley said after researching pricing of stainless steel sinks, he discovered at around $2,000 per sink, it would be too cost prohibitive to replace them in all of the parks.
“We’re talking several thousands of dollars,” he said.
Although the parks have cameras in them, they cannot be used in the restrooms, and the images don’t always identify the culprits because they usually have their head down or their face covered.
“I think that cameras or any other deterrent are only so effective, especially when a decent one like cameras now record a mask-wearing public,” Ferret said.
With more than 100 people using the restrooms on the weekends, it’s difficult to pick out which person or persons is responsible, Keithley said.
“We can see them going in and out, but we don’t know who is actually doing the damage,” he said.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Anyone who witnesses vandalism or anything suspicious taking place in the parks should call the Seymour Police Department at 812-522-1234 or the Seymour Parks and Recreation Department at 812-522-6420.