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Vandals plague Dunedin park for visually impaired

Published Oct. 8, 2005

The faucets installed specially for the visually impaired and their guide dogs were broken off their foundations. Braille markers that identified the colorful flowers and plants of the garden were no longer on their rail.

Pat Wollman, president of the Bay Bouquet Garden Club, said this is what she saw when she visited the Louis A. Vanech Recreation Complex in July.

"I thought I was going to die," said Wollman. "I just can't believe someone would do this to a garden for the visually impaired."

Since then, the city has made repairs, but some say they were poorly done.

Geale Miller, president of the Dunedin Lions Club, complained this week in a letter to City Hall that repair work on the garden fountain was "shoddy and sloppy."

The Lions contributed about $3,000 for construction of the garden, which opened in the city park on Garrison Road in June. It has been vandalized numerous times, said Harry Gross, Dunedin's director of leisure services. The Dunedin Lions Club and the city paid for the garden, which was the idea of the Bay Bouquet Garden Club.

Vandalism of new attractions in city parks is nothing new, Gross said. Every time a new facility opens in a city park, vandals strike. The destruction goes on sometimes up to a year, and then generally stops, he said.

"I think that what's happening right now is that the garden for the visually impaired is going through that process," Gross said. "It seems to have to go through this initiation. I wouldn't try to guess the psychology behind that."

The city has paid about $7,500 to repair the garden, just about what it cost to build it, Gross said.

Gross said the Braille markers have been pulled off the rail more than once, and the rail has been knocked down several times. This month city workers put back a park bench that had been ripped off its cement base. A day later, they found the bench upside down again.

Gross also said the garden's drinking fountain has been vandalized several times. The two faucets _ one for people and the other for dogs _ were kicked off the drinking fountain.

Art Finn, the city's parks resource coordinator, said that the fountain's plaque was pummeled with rocks. The plaque bears the name of Edward L. French, a Dunedin Lion that the fountain memorializes. The city has repaired the plaque, now protected with a layer of plastic.

Gross said bricks in the fountain, which Mrs. Miller said were poorly set, should be reset in the next two weeks or so.

No one has been caught vandalizing the park. Gross said that children are probably to blame for most of the vandalism.

Clair Miller, Lions Club secretary treasurer, agreed and called it a "sad commentary."

Said Geale Miller, the Lions president: "If I had done something like that, I wouldn't have been able to sit down."