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Vandalism plagues Canal Park

Video surveillance cameras may be installed at the Canal Park Sports Complex to stem a recent rash of vandalism.

Vandals have struck the popular 37-acre park three times since October, damaging facilities and stealing money. In the latest incident, concession stands and the bike shop at the BMX track were targeted, causing about $2,000 in damage.

On Jan. 3, vandals attempted to pry off the frame doors and locks to the concession stands near baseball and football fields. They also smashed part of a concrete block wall in a restroom connected to one of the concessions stands. Investigators suspect the vandals were trying to gain access to the stand.

The vandals also broke into the bike shop and ransacked it. A hammer was the only item reported missing, said Pinellas sheriff's spokesperson Mac McMullen.

If Oldsmar decides to install videocameras, it would need about three to monitor the concession stand areas, said Lynn Rives, Oldsmar's director of parks and recreation. The cameras cost about $2,000 each.

The park's entry gate and bathrooms are locked nightly at 11. About 5 a.m., a janitor unlocks the facilities for maintenance, said Rives.

The vandalism likely occurred after the janitor cleaned and before the morning staff arrived about 7 a.m., Rives said.

"It appears they took big hammers of some type and tried to beat the locks off," McMullen said. "I think they were trying to look for money." The Sheriff's Office burglary unit is investigating.

During the Christmas weekend, vandals broke the lock on a soda machine and stole about $40. In October, vandals broke into the Little League softball concession stand and stole candy.

"They cause more damage than what they get," said Greg Papa, who oversees the 35-team Little League that uses the park. "We deposit the money every night, so for somebody to break in is ridiculous . . . unless they want raw hot dogs."

Canal Park is heavily used. About 400 Little League baseball and softball players play here, as well as youth soccer and football leagues and an adult softball league.

On some nights, more than 1,000 people are at the park for games, Papa said.

The city has repaired most of the damage but is waiting for new metal doors for the concession stands.

Vandalism has not been a serious problem at county parks in North Pinellas, said Parks and Recreation Operations manager Leah Hoffman.

Each of the county's 26 parks is secured with high fencing and gates. Each also is assigned a resident staff member, except Ridgecrest Park on Ulmerton Road.

"We know that after school and holidays are going to be high traffic times for our parks, so we make sure to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior and make a presence," Hoffman said. "We'll have staff monitor the parks more frequently so people know we're definitely there."

Nicole Johnson can be reached at njohnsonsptimes.com or 771-4303.

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