South Portland park clubhouse soon to be razed

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The future vision for Wilkinson Park on New York Avenue may need more clarity, but it’s certain the current clubhouse will not be part of it.

A 90-minute Community Center forum Wednesday, led by Parks and Recreation Director Rick Towle, showed neighbors have much affection for the seven-acre parcel, which includes ball fields and walking paths.

But the 24-feet-by-48-feet clubhouse, built more than 50 years ago for the former Sunset Park Men’s Club, is a liability that will probably be removed before a March forum Towle proposed to further discuss park issues.

“I’d bulldoze it,” Towle said, while remaining open to more public input about how to rebuild the structure and enhance use of the park.

The park sits on city-owned land donated by the Wilkinson family in 1994. John Wilkinson, whose father and grandfather owned the land and lived nearby, attended the meeting.

He agreed with Towle and City Manager Jim Gailey that it was time to tear down the clubhouse, but wants a new structure with a kitchen, restrooms and space for neighborhood gatherings. He also wants a speedy timeline for progress.

“I want to see some progress, we have to get something going,” Wilkinson said, adding that children should remain the primary focus of park use.

Wilkinson, Towle and Gailey have been discussing the park since last summer, spurred by Wilkinson’s distress about clubhouse disrepair.

The structure now lacks a heating and cooling system, its oil tank was removed in the fall, and the kitchen and restrooms do not meet current codes, Towle said. He also said there is structural rot in the clubhouse, and that its location next to the South Portland Little League fields may not be well-suited.

Towle’s cost estimates for rebuilding or replacing the clubhouse with a building of the same size range from $145,000 to $245,000, and he suggested a new building could be located up the street in an area near the basketball court.

Smaller, stand-alone comfort stations with restrooms and kitchens are estimated  to cost between $30,000 and $100,000.

With $68,000 currently on hand for park work, Towle said a new clubhouse is “cost-prohibitive,” and has suggested building a pavilion that would feature an enclosed kitchen, restroom and meeting area available for rent.

Don Cook, who once presided over the Sunset Park Men’s Club and helped build the clubhouse, saw promise in building an indoor gathering room for neighborhood use.

“When it was marketed right, it was used,” Cook said, referring to cribbage groups, Scouting groups and dances that once took place in the current clubhouse.

Towle has estimated a pavilion can cost between $35,000 to $125,000, depending on size and amenities, and said even a strictly open-air structure could be used eight months of the year. A bare-bones pavilion can also be expanded in phases.

Beyond the clubhouse question, Towle presented three potential plans to resolve parking issues, enhance trails and re-create a field beyond the two South Portland Little League diamonds.

A rectangular field there could be home to a portable ice rink in the winter, and a space for unstructured family and youth play.

Karina Bacock, who lives around the corner on Berwick Street, said she used to lead Girl Scout troops in the clubhouse and wants to be sure improvements such as more parking and path enhancements do not cause negative environmental effects.

Babcock also supported the suggestion of creating a cleared field beyond the diamonds, and not designating it for a particular sport.

Measures to control parking on New York Avenue already include clearing some park land for spaces near the diamonds, and could extend to a parking ban on the other side of the street.

But as Pennsylvania Avenue resident Darlene Panzino noted, the games drawing families and children benefit the neighborhood between Main Street and the Interstate 295 Connector.

“I’m happy to see people using it. The parking is tough, but I’m happy to see families coming to the games,” she said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

The days are numbered for the Wilkinson Park clubhouse on New York Avenue, as city officials and neighbors agreed on the need to tear the structure down. Future park plans are still to be determined and could be completed in phases.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.