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Wilkinson Park project a priority for South Portland rec director

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Wilkinson Park project a priority for South Portland rec director

SOUTH PORTLAND — Wilkinson Park on New York Avenue is quaint, popular and embodies the desires of the family that donated the land to the city.

The community center at the edge of the park is less so, according to an assessment presented to city councilors Oct. 22  by Recreation Director Rick Towle.

"This has the bones of a nice park," Towle said as he led councilors past a basketball court, Little League field and 22 new parking spaces created by removing trees along New York Avenue.

Then he took them inside the community center, a 24-by-48-foot structure about 60 years old. The knotty pine walls charmed some councilors – Rosemarie De Angelis joked she wanted first crack at the paneling if it is removed.

Less charming and more expensive for councilors to consider is the rot below the floor tiles, the bathrooms that fail to comply with Americans With Disability Act standards, and the kitchen that does not meet contemporary codes. The oil tank was removed several years ago, and the building only generates $1,600 in gross annual rental revenue.

City Manager James Gailey has set aside $50,000 in the current capital improvements budget for work at the park. The Recreation Department can add $10,000 of its own funds, but Towle's preliminary estimate for replacement of the community center is $75 per square-foot, or roughly $83,000.

That is just for a building of a similar size meeting current codes, Towle said. More detailed estimates need input from the community and city councilors on how the building could be used.

"I'm not trying to deter you," Towle said. "I'm just trying to give you the true picture."

Towle also provided councilors with details on three options to consider for repairing or rebuilding the community center, or replacing it with a pavilion that could be used for eight or nine months of the year. The pavilion is likely the least expensive option.

Gailey said no date has been set for hearings or meetings on the future of the park, but Towle said park improvements are high on his priority list.

Once known as Sunset Park, the land and community center was a shared neighborhood recreation area owned by the Wilkinson family and homeowners in the neighborhood west of Route 1 and bounded by the Interstate 295 Connector.

"In it's era, a very forward-thinking thing to do," Towle said.

The land was donated to the city about 35 years ago. About 30 years ago, the park was renamed for the three generations of Wilkinsons who wanted the land to be used for recreation.

Some boundary questions are still unanswered, but the park is at least six acres. The baseball diamond used by the South Portland Little League takes up a large space, but fields beyond and adjacent trails are popular with residents. Towle said the park is important for younger children, because it is one of the few recreation areas accessible by bike or foot for children who live nearby.

Towle's desire to improve the park is shared by John Wilkinson, whose father and grandfather donated the park land. In August, Wilkinson first approached Gailey and Towle about conditions in the park.

While ensuring the intended use would remain constant, Wilkinson told councilors a new community building would boost rental revenues for the city.

"We want it to meet the needs of today," Towle said. "(The family) did a wonderful thing, (and) we couldn't buy that land today."

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.