The city of St. Francis wants Deer Creek neighbors to step up.
Seelye Brook Park, tucked into a corner of the development, has been the target of repeated vandalism and arson for several years. Public Works Director Paul Teicher doesn't have a full accounting of what the city has paid in repairs to equipment and landscaping.
Recently, the city has had to replace the swing for kids with disabilities, to the tune of $300. The baby swings routinely are destroyed; replacement is about $100 each. Vandals just recently destroyed a crawling tube, which will cost $500 to repair. A previous replacement cost the city $1,200.
Vandals have damaged and cut down several dozen trees and set fires in the woods and on the asphalt paths. They regularly tear up the grass with their four-wheelers. They scrawl obscenities on the play equipment. Each repair and vandalism cleanup costs staff time.
The cost for repairs comes out of citywide park maintenance funds.
Now, city officials are saying enough. If they can't find a solution, said Mayor Jerry Tveit, the city may well move the park equipment to a different neighborhood. Seelye Brook Park, adjacent to the city's only sliding hill, would remain as a green space.
"I just think it's poor management of assets just to let them get ruined, and when they get ruined throw more money at it and let that get ruined," he said.
Last week, Deer Creek residents received a letter summoning them to a neighborhood meeting next week at the St. Francis Community Center.
The goal is to engage residents to help them find the people responsible for the damage, which has made the park unsafe for children and has placed an undue burden on the city budget.
St. Francis Police Chief Jeff Harapat noted that those four-wheeler drivers have to cross the street to get from the path to the park.
Tveit and others theorized that witnesses don't call because they don't want to upset relationships with neighbors. Or they don't want to bother police.
"Some of it is Minnesota Nice," Tveit said. People want to mind their own business and not get their neighbors in trouble. But I'm sure somebody has seen people wrecking city parks. Some of the damage that was done isn't damage that could be done very quickly. It takes time. And when the damage is being done nobody calls the cops."
City workers and police, subject to the same budget constraints as the rest of city government, just don't have the staffing to stake out the park to be on hand when the damage occurs.
"The neighbors need to call us when they see activities that aren't normal over there," Harapat said. "They need to call us when four-wheelers go through their neighborhoods to the park to tear it up."
He wondered whether the city is sending the wrong message by making repairs every time the park is damaged.
"The problem is we replace it," he said. "How upset is a kid when someone damages the slide, or the swing, or whatever they're damaging, and a week and a half later a new one is there?"
The park is well used by children in the area, Teicher said, and he's worried a child will be injured.
"We've gone over and put caution tape on everything to keep kids from using it," he said. "But kids are kids. They're going to do what they want to do."
City Administrator Matt Hylen warned that, especially in the current dry conditions, fires set in the woods could spread to the nearby neighborhoods.
Harapat said that isn't all that could spread, especially if the city decides to take down the park equipment.
"If we're allowing that to go on in the park, sooner or later how will you feel if you are the victim, if your garage or your car gets vandalized?" he said. "If the park goes away, what are they going to turn their sights on? Do we really believe they're going to quit damaging things?"
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409