Park vandalism a spring problem

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Graffetti covers much of Austin's skate park, across from the Hormel plant. -- Erich Johnson/

While spring is here and kids are eager to hit the playgrounds, the city of Austin is anxious about what that means to its pocket book.

Each year, the city spends more than $2,000 fixing vandalism and covering graffiti on public facilities, according to Austin Park and Recreation Director Kim Underwood.

“It seems like when spring fever hits, we start seeing graffiti,” she said.

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Underwood has been with Park and Rec since 1982, and she’s seen the problem every year.

The problem is a drain on resources because the city has to buy chemicals or paint to fix the problem, or use pressure washers to lessen the effects in some areas. It also has to pay its employees when they could be working on more productive projects.

“It’s time consuming and it’s just kind of a waste,” Underwood said. “Why do people do it? You should be more proud of your city than that.”

Although Underwood said there is an influx of graffiti every spring, there is also a lot in the fall when kids go back to school, too.

“It’s kind of an ongoing thing,” she said.

Last year, the vandalism was worse than usual. Somebody broke the drinking fountain at the pool, smashed windows and vandalized the pool.

However, city employees aren’t the only people who notice the problem.

Local Brownie Girl Scouts from Austin’s troop 43057 wrote a letter to Park and Rec, part of which said, “We play at many of the parks here in Austin and have noticed a problem.”

Kesley Witiak, a second-grader from troop 43057, is concerned that kids even younger than her can read the words by sounding them out.

“Little kids can read it, and they can think, ‘Oh, I can use that word,’” she said.

One particular area the scouts noticed a problem was at Todd Park, where individuals have been writing in the robot slide. As part of the scouts’ journey goals that aim to make a difference in the community, they wrote a letter to the Park and Rec with some of their ideas.

“We could paint the inside of the head black, so nobody would see it,” Witiak said.

The scouts also want posters displayed in playgrounds to discourage vandalism and spread word of the problem.

Underwood added that the city has tried neighborhood watches to curb the issue, but it’s nearly impossible to stop vandalism because it is random and usually without reason.

Although security cameras could be a preventive measure, the Park and Rec Board would have to determine if they would be cost effective or a significant deterrent.

“You’re probably never going to stop kids from vandalizing,” Underwood said. But she’s glad some people are noticing the problem, such as the scouts. “It was a good thing they sent (the letter). It’s one step toward maybe somebody else respecting the property.”