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Pioneer Park's new look faces old foes

When residents who live near Pioneer Park lobbied county commissioners last year to upgrade the neglected, vandalized park, their wish was granted.

The county in October agreed to refurbish the 4.9-acre, 27-year-old park off Pinehurst Boulevard. Additional equipment was installed, and improvements were made.

Nearby resident Dawn Fleming appreciates the work.

"It looks really sharp," said Fleming, an early leader in the move to get the park refurbished. "There are neighborhood kids who use the park and do appreciate it. I just hope other kids don't destroy it."

Pat Fagan, the county's community services director, said the vandals already have returned.

Fagan said that since construction ended several weeks ago, some of the work has been destroyed or defaced.

"They have spray-painted the bathrooms, busted the sinks and torn down doors," Fagan said. "The week before last, we had to sand the table tops and already they're marked up."

Fagan is fed up and said the vandalism must stop.

"If the vandalism continues I will recommend (the equipment) to be dismantled and put at another park site," he said. "I don't think taxpayers really want their money wasted like this."

Fleming said nearby neighbors have agreed to watch for trouble in the park, and Spring Hill Alert Residents Patrol volunteers regularly drive by.

About a year ago, Fleming and other residents collected more than 150 signatures asking the county to provide a larger basketball court, a paved walking trail, new playground equipment and increased lawn maintenance.

Commissioners suggested that residents raise funds, and the county would match the contributions. Commissioner June Ester said if the residents committed time and money to the park, it would help solve the vandalism problem.

However, residents wouldn't hear of it.

"The park was hideous and unsafe," Fleming said. "We already pay taxes for its upkeep. But even the basic maintenance wasn't being done."

Fleming said she is thankful for the work, which took less than a year to complete.

Among the improvements: a larger basketball court with two hoops; new playground equipment, surrounded with beach sand for safety; six picnic shelters with 6-by-12-foot tables; repainted shuffleboard courts; a re-striped and upgraded parking lot; and a cable enclosure of the park.

Fagan said the cost of refurbishing was about $40,000.

Tom Troisi, past president of the Spring Hill Association, joined the campaign last year to have the park refurbished and said everything should be done to keep the park intact.

"Pioneer Park was Spring Hill's first park, donated by the Deltona Corp.," he said. "It is an historical park, a county landmark. There are a lot of young families who could benefit from that little park. We can't see it fall apart."