SOUTH PORTLAND — With the Wilkinson Park clubhouse gone, neighbors and Parks and Recreation Director Rick Towle are ready to tackle a multi-faceted plan to restore and improve the park.
In a two-hour public forum at the Community Center on Tuesday, Towle outlined his intentions to improve park trails, bleachers, and playgrounds, and install a new basketball court and an open-air structure for gatherings.
About 20 residents gathered to talk about the park, city-owned since 1994, and a neighborhood fixture since about 1950. Towle has set his sights on park improvements since last summer, but would not proceed without public input.
Originally part of land owned by the Wilkinson family, the park at the end of New York Avenue and bordered by the Interstate 295 Spur was deeded to the city on the condition it remain open for recreation. The South Portland Little League American Division plays its seasons on two diamonds at the park, and a field beyond is reserved for non-organized sports.
The meeting and research by neighborhood resident Matt Green revealed varied opinions about park use, including more parking to accommodate Little League spectators.
John Roberts, who lives at the corner of New York Avenue and Concord Street, said he enjoys the Little League presence, but worried it is becoming too expansive.
“I think baseball is a great thing for kids,” he said, “(but) allowing Little League to make decisions of where to play is letting the tail wag the dog.”
John Wilkinson, whose father and grandfather previously owned the land, agreed with Towle on the preference not to expand parking into areas behind the diamonds.
“I don’t think the first move is tarring it over and putting in a parking lot,” he said.
Towle was careful to remind neighbors there isn’t much he can do about that, given the April 17 City Council decision to ban parking on portions of New York Avenue and Concord and Berwick streets during baseball seasons.
Pennsylvania Avenue resident Ryan Edwards was among those who expressed concern that the parking ban, despite new off-street parking spaces adjacent to the Little League diamonds, would push drivers to more side streets and cause congestion throughout the neighborhood.
Towle said he can work with Little League officials about site use and perhaps a relocation to the Wainwright Field Athletic Complex off Highland Avenue.
He emphasized concentrating on trail work, creating garden plots for public use, rebuilding the playground, and installing a basketball court that will not be uprooted because of nearby pine trees.
He estimated he has about $36,000 available now for park projects, and the fiscal year 2014 capital improvements budget would add $60,000 if approved by councilors.
Replacing the clubhouse with an enclosed structure could cost as much as $245,000 because of updated codes and accessibility requirements. Getting permits for the clubhouse could take at least 18 months, Towle estimated.
In the interim, he has proposed an open-air shelter with a steel roof at a cost of $35,000 to $125,000, usable for as many as nine months of the year.
Towle also suggested neighbors looking to raise private funds for a clubhouse could begin working together now, and vowed he would pay more attention to the area.
“We are all users down there,” he said. “Let’s all get along.”