SOUTH PORTLAND — After councilors left him Monday to a golden sunset and gathering mosquitoes at Wilkinson Park, city Parks and Recreation Director Rick Towle took a long look past the baseball diamonds and parking lot on New York Avenue.
“I’m very pleased we have been able to take one piece at a time and make this a public asset,” Towles said.
Prior to that, for about 30 minutes, Towle led Mayor Tom Blake, City Manager Jim Gailey, other city officials and every councilor except Patti Smith through the park he has made a priority to improve and restore since his hiring a little more than a year ago.
The tour left little for councilors to consider or suggest for future action at the park, deeded to the city in 1994 by the Wilkinson family. Gailey did ask if he and his staff should pursue making an offer on adjacent land owned by the Defosses family, but were cautioned to be sure the land would not carry environmental restrictions because it is forested wetlands.
The tour brought back memories for Councilor Al Livingston, who recalled belting his first home run on a diamond now used as a multi-purpose field. It also allowed Councilor Jerry Jalbert to talk about working with about a dozen volunteers to clear away brush and improve trails in early June.
The park is more than 60 years old, and was donated to the city 19 years ago by the family that developed the surrounding neighborhood. It is on about seven acres, tucked between the dead end of New York Avenue and the Interstate 295 Spur. Two diamonds are used by the American League division of the South Portland Little League.
Gone is the old “Sunset Park” clubhouse used for social gatherings, torn down in early spring. Gone also is the basketball court known for the tree roots pushing through the surface, and the aging playground equipment.
Coming are a new basketball court, on smoother ground beyond the outfield fences of the baseball diamonds; a unenclosed pavilion that could be expanded for indoor use, and more cleared ground to provide a versatile open space. The playground has also been elevated for better drainage.
A 720-square-foot peaked-roof pavilion is on order and will cost more than $24,000, with an additional $1,500 for the concrete slab. The pavilion is funded with money from the fiscal year 2013 capital improvements budget and is expected to arrive in about six weeks.
Baseball field bleachers still need replacement, Towle said, because there are no railings or protection from falls from seating rows.
Parking outside the field was expanded to 28 spaces by cutting down trees, and councilors enacted street parking bans on sections of New York Avenue and adjacent streets from mid-May through Thursday. Towle said it will take more than this year to assess how effectively the restrictions relieve traffic congestion around the park.
Adding paved parking will be expensive, he said: as much as $1,500 a space to accommodate federal Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.
There is also $60,000 in the current CIP budget for park improvements, and Towle said he will keep working with neighbors in a gradual approach to the park’s future.
South Portland Parks and Recreation Director Rick Towle, left, explains improvements and renovations at Wilkinson Park on Monday, Aug. 12, to City Clerk Sue Mooney and Councilor Michael Pock.