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South Portland's Redbank neighborhood starts to put blight behind

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South Portland's Redbank neighborhood starts to put blight behind

SOUTH PORTLAND — Residents and city officials had good reason to celebrate Tuesday at the sixth annual National Night Out neighborhood block party in Redbank Community Park.

The event, which brought together more than 200 people for an evening of family activities "against crime," was an unofficial reintroduction to the Redbank Village park after a year's worth of investment and restoration.

City Parks and Recreation Director Rick Towle described the empty, former school property as "blighted." But now, the untamed fields riddled with debris have been cleared for a new central pavilion, with clean pathways and landscaping next to the community center.

The park also has a new playground, and will soon have new sidewalks.

Investments in the park were part of the city's 2014 Capital Improvement Program, though the majority of funding came from community development block grants.

Improvements have also been made to programming at the Redbank Community Center. With the help of former Police Officer Jeff Caldwell, who now works at the center, a wider variety of activities are being offered to kids and adults, including cooking and hip-hop dance classes. Caldwell said attendance has doubled since February. 

City officials said the improved park and community center have had a positive impact on the former military housing neighborhood. City recreation coordinator Lisa Thompson said there have been no incidences of vandalism at the park in the past year, in comparison with more than 15 incurring up to $8,000 worth of damage during the prior year.

"It's given the neighborhood a new sense of pride," she said. "We’ re hoping that continues to grow."

Though he believes the number of police calls to the Redbank area has increased in the past year, Police Lt. Frank Clark said he suspects it is not for an uptick in crime, but for the "community taking ownership and wanting to rid itself of issues."

Towle said his next goals for the park include leveling the remaining lawn, perhaps for a soccer field, and using the park's new pavilion for more events.

"It's becoming a focal point in the community, as it always should have been," he said.

And Tuesday, as police officers scaled a portable rock climbing wall, played basketball with kids and families from the neighborhood, and gave a K-9 demonstration, the Redbank community showcased its growth. 

"Now the kids see (police) as another resource," Towle said, "rather than run from them."

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or scarignan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.