LEETONIA PARKS Frustrations take toll on board

Vandalism over the years has progressed from mischief to destruction.
LEETONIA -- Two park board members will reconsider their resignations if changes are made in the park board operation, Councilman Dan Valentine said Thursday.
Valentine, who also chairs the park board, said he spoke to JoAnn Fields and Sandy Hauser on Wednesday after they submitted their resignations, effective June 30, to council. At Valentine's request, council took no action.
Fields and Hauser could not be reached to comment.
Valentine said the women are frustrated because they put so much time and effort into improvements to Wick Park and the Cherry Valley Coke Ovens, only to see much of their work damaged or destroyed by vandals.
"The park board is supposed to advise council of needs and problems at the park," Valentine said. "They go above and beyond that and do the work themselves. Then they take it personally when the parks are vandalized."
He said he wants to lessen the burden of park board members by returning the park board to an advisory rather than hands-on status.
Vandalism, volunteerism: Village Administrator Gary Phillips said vandalism has become an increasing problem over the years, and he has also seen a decrease in volunteerism. He said if council approves the hands-off approach for the park board, its next task will be finding people to do the work, and that won't be easy.
"I think it's just the times we're living in," Phillips said. "We have the same 24 hours in a day, but people's schedules are crammed.
"With the vandalism, kids have moved from mischief to destruction, and that costs money. Vandalism at the parks has always been a problem. When I was on the police force in the '70s, kids would unscrew the light bulbs in the park pavilions. Now they break the lights with bricks."
Phillips said volunteers raise money for park improvements, and do much of the resulting work themselves. The village has about $20,000 in the budget each year for maintenance, including mowing, at the baseball fields, Wick Park and the Cherry Valley Coke Ovens.
The coke ovens area is the site of the former Cherry Valley Iron and Coal Co., and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"We put new restroom facility there and someone broke out the Plexiglas windows," Phillips said. "We put in new picnic tables and people carve obscenities in them. Then people come there for a family outing and see that."
Police know about it: Leetonia Police Chief John Soldano said his officers are aware of the problems and patrol the parks. The coke ovens are in a secluded area on the southwest side of the village, but Wick Park is in the middle of a residential area, he said.
"Wick Park is surrounded by houses, but we rarely receive reports while the damage is being done," he said. "If people would call us then, it would be a great help."
Phillips agreed.
"There are a lot of positive things going on in Leetonia, and the potential for growth and improvement is tremendous," he said. "The future of Leetonia is in everyone's hands, though, not just in the hands of a few. This is a problem we all can work on."

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