Saturday, August 4, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: A photo taken by park district officials of a group of unidentified young people who officials say have been vandalizing Maywood parks. | VFP
The Maywood Park District’s central area grounds recently received a $500,000 renovation and the historic building at 809 Madison St., which anchors the central area, is undergoing a $1.8 million renovation project, but all of these improvements face a threat — a group of teens and pre-teens who have been vandalizing the park in recent months, park district officials said last week.
Since April, records show, park district officials have filed at least nine reports with the Maywood Police Department. Most of them have been for criminal theft of property and burglary to motor vehicles.
Park district officials, including Maywood Park District Executive Director Lonette Hall, Park District Board of Commissioners President Dawn Rone and Luis Leon, the district’s maintenance director, all said that they’ve witnessed the young people carry out many of the acts of vandalism. They even showed photos and video footage of the young people in action.
The young people, officials said, have been daily mainstays at the park since officials broke ground on the 809 Madison building in April. The kids usually play basketball or hang out during the day. The most extensive vandalism seems to happen after park district employees leave work to go home, they said.
The children, the officials allege, have broken into the 809 building, broken out multiple windows of the building, broken into a park district-owned van parked on the new basketball court, sprayed graffiti onto the walls of park district facilities, set firecrackers off in grass and on the court, and climbed onto a nearby construction genie, stealing the key.
“Two days ago, a gentlemen with the contractor talked to the kids in the neighborhood and said, ‘If anybody can find that key for me I’ll give them $20 and a pizza,’” Hall said. “The kids left and came back with the key.”
The window of a park district van that officials say was broken into by a rogue band of adolescents. | VFP
The vandalism has put officials in a bind. They don’t want the kids arrested, but they also want to protect the community’s investment.
“We like to have kids in the park but what are we supposed to do to protect our property because they’re consistently damaging it?” said Rone, adding that Maywood police officers, including the chief, have been out multiple times to speak with the young people — to no avail.
Hall said that she’s been forced to hire additional security at the park, which she estimated will cost around $300 a day. That cost doesn’t include the price of installing new security cameras, which park district officials said the kids broke with two-by-fours.
“I’ve never seen this before,” said Leon. “I’ve never seen a park get destroyed on purpose. I live in Chicago.”
Leon said that, in addition to vandalism, he suspects the young people are also engaging in “adult acts” on park district grounds.
“A little kid saw that and he was asking me, ‘What is that? What were they doing?’” he said. “I didn’t give him an explanation, because I wasn’t the person to give him an explanation.”
Luis Leon, the maintenance director for the park district, shows signs of a break-in at the 809 building officials say was committed by a mysterious group of young people. | VFP
That function, Leon indicated, falls to their parents, who, he added, are nowhere to be found.
“Where are those parents and why are they not here? What’s happening? You want your kids to come to the park without having to think about other kids being reckless,” Leon said. “But these kids doing this stuff are still kids. They only want attention.”
Officials said that that they believe there are roughly two dozen kids in the group who appear to range in age from no older than nine to no older than 15.
They said that they’ve asked the children repeatedly for their names and addresses, but still haven’t been able to positively identify the young people. They suspect, they said, that some are not from Maywood. Hall said that she doesn’t suspect that any of the kids are in gangs.
The park district officials said that they’ve also tried having conversations with the young people, but those get nowhere. Hall said that it’s as if the adults and kids speak different languages.
A part of the park district’s central area district where officials said that a group of young people broke out two windows and sprayed graffiti. | VFP
Rone said that she can predict what many people may be thinking about the situation. If, the thinking goes, the park district only had more programming the young people wouldn’t be drawn to vandalism. None of the kids, she said, are involved in the park district’s summer camp, which currently hosts around 38 young people.
“How are we going to have programs for them if you have to have parents come in and sign them up?” she said.
“This is also the end of the summer session,” Hall added. “Our summer camp is winding down. Typically, with most park districts, you have a couple of weeks of down time. So, we’re winding down with our summer activities and everybody is getting revved up for back-to-school activities.”
Besides, there are many community programs beyond what the park district offers and “those kids aren’t in those programs, either,” Hall said. “There’s a difference between parks and recreation,” she said, “and social services.”
In the meantime, park district officials said, they’re interested in any positive ideas that caring adults have for getting through to the children. To reach district officials, call (708) 344-4740. VFP
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