Children play at Jude’s Place playground Wednesday at Marcotte Park in Lewiston. The park will have a new earlier curfew in response to problems the parks department has had with maintaining the property. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The City Council approved earlier closing times for the Jude’s Place playground at Marcotte Park and the Franklin Pasture Athletic Complex after city and school staff said there have been repeated problems, including vandalism.

However, the council said it may amend the new policy ahead of a final reading June 20 in response to concerns about field access.

The Franklin Pasture complex, which includes Don Roux Field, Joe Deschenes Baseball Field, and the Franklin track and tennis courts, has artificial turf fields that school officials say are seeing unnecessary wear and tear.

Brian O’Malley, deputy city administrator, said school staff has become increasingly frustrated with removing trash and items like rocks from the fields. Not far away, similar issues have been occurring at Jude’s Place at Marcotte Park on Jefferson Street, a relatively new universally-accessible playground that can be used by kids with special needs.

Megan Bates, deputy director of Public Works, said, “Whenever there’s an issue at the (Franklin) complex, the crowd moves to Jude’s Place,” where there have been issues with alcohol, trash receptacles being pushed over, and adults getting on the play equipment.”

Bates said school staff requested the park close at 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. because that’s when school custodial staff leaves for the night.

While city officials said they are concerned and disappointed by the vandalism, many also said they’re concerned for cutting hours for kids and families who are using both facilities, especially during the longer daylight hours of the summer months.

Councilor Linda Scott said that when she left the high school graduation last week, there were several families using the playground after 7 p.m.

But, Scott said, parents in Lewiston “need to be aware this is not OK.”

“We’re hurting a great thing in our city,” she said. “A lot of hard work was put in to ensure that people like my granddaughter, who is a 4-year-old autistic girl, have the ability to go to a park and have a place to play. It’s absolutely disgusting we even have to have this conversation.”

Councilor Stephanie Gelinas and others suggested there be a compromise struck to leave the hours as is during the summer, or set the closing time to sunset.

“It breaks my heart; we worked really hard to get Jude’s Place,” she said.

Asked about the age range of the people causing the issues, O’Malley said it depends, but said it seems to mostly be older teenagers and adults.

Councilor Harriman urged the council to differentiate between vandalism and the interest in using the city fields. He said if the turf fields don’t last as long as expected due to use, “it’s for a reason, people are using them and getting exercise.”

Councilor Larry Pease said many nights he sees kids playing soccer on the fields until late hours, “not causing problems.”

“There’s always going to be someone throwing a rock on the field or doing something, but a curfew isn’t really going to stop it,” he said.

O’Malley said staff is in discussions now to try to shift field use to the field at McGraw Park, which lies adjacent to the Franklin Pasture property. He said that new field, which does not feature artificial turf, was put there to be a recreational area for soccer that is not tied to school or organized programs.

A school department staff member said the district is simply worried about the life of the artificial turf fields, which received significant investment.

Councilor Rick LaChapelle said the school department’s artificial turf fields should be closed to the public unless they have permission from the school department, a policy that many other communities practice. But, he said, other places should remain open later than 7 p.m.

“Providing spaces and opportunities for our youth to play should be of paramount importance to our city,” Mayor Carl Sheline said Wednesday. “I’m concerned that sometimes public parks and fields are simply seen as a burden when, in fact, they provide real benefit to our residents and city’s image. I understand that we need to find ways to reduce vandalism and protect the investment of the artificial turf fields, but we must do so in a way that allows recreation access.”

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