Basketball coming back to two West St. Paul parks


Basketball hoops at Haskell and Oakdale parks will be restored after the West St. Paul City Council voted May 28 to temporarily put a single hoop back up in each park. The hoops were taken down more than a decade ago due to activities happening around them that were deemed dangerous and inappropriate. (Hannah Burlingame photos/Review)

After more than a decade, basketballs will again be dribbled and free throws shot at two parks in West St. Paul. 

The West St. Paul City Council voted 4-1 on May 28 to reinstall one basketball hoop each at Haskell and Oakdale parks. Council member Dick Vitelli was the lone dissenter, and council member Anthony Fernandez was absent. 

 

A solution at the time

Dave Schletty, assistant parks and recreation director, said that in 2005 the council decided to remove the basketball hoops in Haskell Park based on a number of issues.

“There were many complaints in the neighborhood about noise, gang use, drug activity and it basically revolved around the basketball court,” Schletty said. 

There was a 180-day testing period after the council voted to remove the hoops and after a follow-up meeting with neighbors the city decided to permanently remove them.

Roughly a year later, similar issues cropped up at Oakdale Park. Schletty said the problem had moved from one park to another. He said the council came up with the same solution and removed Oakdale Park’s hoops.

Schletty said over the last year or so, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee has talked about reinstalling basketball hoops at both parks.

At its April meeting, the committee recommended to reinstall one hoop at each park, add signage and to work with law enforcement to monitor basketball court activity throughout the summer. Schletty said the committee would come back a year later to make a determination about whether to keep the hoops up. 

 

Opposing teams 

Dwane Melville, who lives across the street from one of the parks, said he lived in his house when the hoops were first removed. 

“As far as we could tell, there were no local kids using those basketball courts. Where these people came from we don’t know, but there was lots of trouble,” he said, adding the trouble included gang fights and sex behind trees.

He said even if it’s just a single hoop that is put back up, “those same people” will be back, causing the same problems. 

Melville said he was concerned about the neighborhood children who use the park — the folks playing basketball were mostly older children or adults, and he said his concern was the smaller kids on the playground were in danger.  

Edmund Enright said he would love to have basketball at the park, but because of the issues that came with it, he thinks it is a bad idea and it’s shortsighted to put the hoops back up, saying he’d prefer soccer goals instead.

“I have never seen the same issues associated with a soccer field as I’ve seen with hoops,” he said.

Jay DeLaRosby said Ward 1 does not have a place for children to play sports. “We’re not sending our children across Robert Street to find an amenity that we could have in our ward,”

DeLaRosby added that city and community parks need to meet all residents’ needs, including basketball. He said it comes down to a fear-based decision or having parks that serve everybody.  

Abigail Hendricks said that while the people who brought up what happened 14 years ago had valid points, it had all happened in the past.

Jim Englin, a former council member, said he’d pushed for the hoops to come down. He said there are some misconceptions of what took place when the hoops were removed — it wasn’t about parking, as some had suggested.

“It was about the drug use. It was about the public urination in full view of everyone. It was about the sexual harassment of the mothers that were there at the playground. That’s what this was about,” Englin said. 

Englin said new residents, especially in the north of the city, are enjoying Haskell and Oakdale parks specifically because of what the council did in 2005 and 2006. He said people were intimidated to go to the parks, but once the hoops came down kids were able to go use the outdoor spaces for all types of activities.

“I took one activity out and gave back an entire park,” Englin said. “Think about the balance of that.”

 

To move 

forward or not?

Vitelli said there is no shortage of hoops in the city and there are plenty of places to play basketball. 

“Those parks are too small to support basketball,” he argued. “They’re too close to the residential homes for noise in the summertime ... and Haskell Park, they’re too far away from the visible corner from the street for the police to be keeping an eye on them carefully.”

He added this was a reactive decision that was not budgeted for. The estimated cost for each backboard and basket is around $1,300, plus an additional $100 for signage. Resurfacing each court could cost between $8,000 and $10,000. 

“I’m not going to vote with my heart on a decision that needs my brain,” Vitelli said.

Council member Wendy Berry said she is willing to trust the community and police to put the hoops back in. 

“I have a really hard time when we get concerned about people being ‘not local,’ or ‘we don’t know them’ and at our parks, because I don’t care. Our parks are for people to come here,” she said. “We had someone who moved here because he loved the park here.”

Mayor Dave Napier, who as mayor had no vote on the matter, said the poles were left in at the parks for a reason.

“So that we could come back later and put the things in if we wanted to,” he said. “Today, fast-forward 14 years, we’re here with a concern that our courts are sitting there vacant.”

Napier said city park amenities should be something where kids are seen playing and having fun. He said there were legitimate concerns in the past and he respects the way the council at the time handled them, but those were issues in the past and it’s not fair to the community and new residents who have moved into the city to keep the hoops down.

The mayor added he’d be quick to call for the hoops’ removal if the same old issues returned.

Schletty said the hoops may be up by the end of the month.

 

–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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