Photographer draws ire over pictures of rundown Waterbury parks

Steven Valenti, Republican-American/Ap photo Jessica Rivera of Waterbury and her 2-month-old puppy, Blue Eyes, enjoy a day at Lakewood Park in Waterbury. City officials said a critical report on Waterbury's parks by resident Robert M. Goodrich doesn't take into account improvements that have been made over the past several years, or money that is committed to make further upgrades.

Waterbury (AP) - A local photographer sparked fierce discussions recently with a 36-page report about conditions he found after visiting nearly every city park.

Officials said the report by city resident Robert M. Goodrich doesn't take into account improvements that have been made over the past several years, or money that is already committed to make further upgrades.

And some park commissioners said the report is unfair and one-sided.

"I think the spaces in the city such as the parks are real important to the overall culture, as well as economic stability and other reasons the city's suffering right now," Goodrich said. "I feel they're neglected and misused."

In fact, that's part of the title of his report, "A Visual Record of Waterbury's City Parks: A State of Neglect and Misuse."

As the title suggests, Goodrich's report lays blame for deteriorated park conditions on city park workers as well as the public.

The document describes each city park Goodrich visited in detail, and gives each a rating from zero to 20, based on categories of recreation, grounds, facilities and accessibility.

Among the issues he detailed were: a used condom and drug paraphernalia near the playscape at Bucks Hill Park, ATV damage on the sports fields at Hamilton Park that he said could be prevented by fencing and dire conditions at both Lakeville and Martin Luther King Memorial parks.

Goodrich called Lakewood "dirty," "unkempt" and "unused," with "decrepit" play areas, parking lots reduced to rubble, a basketball court that "is an embarrassment," and drug paraphernalia, empty liquor bottles and litter covering the area.

At Martin Luther King Memorial Park, he wrote, he witnessed public drunkenness and urination, and a blighted bathroom covered in excrement.

"I can't remember in my 30 plus yrs in Waterbury that this space has been treated with the respect it deserves," he wrote.

He also took issue with Hopeville Park, which was part of an effort a couple of years ago by Mayor Neil M. O'Leary to address the city's decaying park system. O'Leary even handed out ice cream to kids there once new swing seats were installed and landscaping was completed at the park.

But Goodrich's report describes recent visits in which he found broken benches, cracked walkways, damaged sports fields, and drug paraphernalia and feces in bathroom, all of which, he said, "is especially worrisome considering its proximity to Hopeville School."

O'Leary said he read the report and shares Goodrich's frustration because he toured the parks in the same manner when he took office and was shocked by their poor condition.

"The frustration and the photographs and the commentary perfectly illustrate what I walked into two and a half years ago," O'Leary said. "Although his language and wording is much more eloquent in his report than I was to the park staff."

Issues at the city parks, O'Leary said, extend to the time at the turn of the 21st century when the city was still under the financial control of an oversight board.

During that time, the number of employees in the park department dropped from more than 100 to just 37; that, O'Leary said, caused a dip in morale at the department that may have further affected the level of service at the parks.

Goodrich, he said, "sees the condition of the parks today as they are. He should have seen them when I first took office."

In addition to the more than $500,000 already spent on park improvements, O'Leary said, is $1 million already designated to a park improvement plan that will fix, among the more egregious issues, certain park bathrooms that have become filthy, broken messes.

O'Leary said he plans to offer Goodrich a chance to visit some city parks with him to see where improvements have been made.

Mark Lombardo, the city's provisional supervisor of parks and golf courses, said the report leaves out critical information.

"There's a lot that he documented that are projects in the process of happening or are on our capital project list," Lombardo said, adding the projects on that list are already funded and out to bid. "Not knowing what the upcoming project list is kind of led to some questions in his report."

Lombardo said he found it curious that while Goodrich claimed to have sent his report to officials throughout the city, he apparently was not on the list. He said he hadn't received the document until a reporter emailed it to him.

He pointed out his role as parks supervisor is one created as part of O'Leary's effort to address park issues. The position was split from one that included the supervision of public buildings. James Nemec remains supervisor of public buildings.

"I think the mayor has invested a considerable amount (in parks) over these past few years, more than in years past," Lombardo said. We see the money keep coming in."

That money, over the past several years, he said, adds up to more than $500,000, and includes upgrades to Hopeville Park, and the renovation of Pearl Street Park into the Rev. Dr. Harrison D. Bonner Park.

Upcoming park projects include, he said, improvements to Chase Park, Waterville Park and the South End's dilapidated Rivera-Hughes Park.

The report was "a little harsh" and "a little unfair," said Joseph Begnal Jr., a Democratic park commissioner.

"We do know our parks need some work and we are working on that; we are in the process of getting things done," he said. "It's a matter of priorities - which park and which problems need work. Then you have to throw in the fact of funds and workers. It's a work in progress."

Bettejane Wesson, a Republican park commissioner, said the city often isn't to blame for park problems.

"Some of these things he cited, the terrible situations, the toilets, litter and drugs, those are the people, for heaven's sake; those are the ones breaking the things for the most part," she said. "I get exasperated by the people who do the vandalism and the drugs. I think the city's doing its best."

But Goodrich said the city's best should be a lot better.

"I lay blame on the city because they allow this to continue, whether it's budgetary, they don't have enough money to pay staff, or the police department not having enough personnel to patrol the park," he said. "If we're going to have these spaces, we should be able to use them safely."

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