GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — A damaged restroom facility, overgrown grass and trees, and cracked sidewalks have prompted one resident to get vocal in pushing officials to clean up the park at Patriot Lake.
“I always ask myself why there aren’t more people here. This could be such a beautiful place,” Richard Price, a resident of the Germania Gardens section of Galloway, said as he walked the asphalt path at the lake Tuesday afternoon.
Officials said funding and manpower dictate what can be accomplished. On its website, the township calls the Patriot Lake site “a new recreational concept.”
Price said there should be a sense of pride at Patriot Lake that’s as simple as routine maintenance.
“They (the township) just spent $87,000 on a lawn mower. Why don’t they cut the grass over here? And a little weed killer doesn’t cost much,” Price said, pointing to weeds growing through pavement cracks, in the gardens and around benches that border the path.
Township Manager Arch Liston said the township recently purchased a lawn mower that cost $87,000. Liston said the piece of equipment is a large wing mower that will be used to mow athletic fields and other large areas. With the purchase, the township was able to reduce payroll by two employees, Liston said.
“We cut the grass over there on a regular basis,” Liston said, but he added, “We don’t have the manpower to do things as often as we did in the past.”
On the township website, Patriot Lake is described as “an active monument to the patriots who were victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.” The four-acre area, which includes the lake that is stocked for fishing, is located on the municipal complex grounds behind the Atlantic County Library and Imagination Station. It opened in 2003.
The area is described on the website as having a pedestrian path, shaded picnic areas, benches and large trees that have been sponsored by donors.
There are three memorial gardens — one for each 9/11 attack site — and a monument and gazebo at the lake.
Price alleges these features have gone unnoticed by township officials, who are just a few hundred feet away in the municipal complex.
“I mean, this here has been like this for years,” Price said as he pointed to the park’s bathrooms, where siding is missing from the building. “They said they’re not going to fix this because the kids with skateboards damage it and they’ll just keep doing it.”
Liston said the municipality does not have unlimited funds to fix things, and that the repairs will be made to the restrooms when the township can afford to make them.
Mayor Don Purdy said Liston told him that he is going through the budget to see what funding is available to fix the restroom damage.
In recent years, the township has faced budgetary constraints that resulted in cutbacks and layoffs.
“It’s just a damn shame for the residents of Galloway Township that they have nice restrooms there to use instead of Porta Potties and they just keep wrecking it. It does need to be fixed, and we are looking at what we can allocate to fix this, but we’re going to have to figure out some way to monitor this, too,” Purdy said.
The township advertises the bathrooms as open and handicapped-accessible, but on Tuesday, Price pulled on the locked door to the restrooms that he said is always locked.
“Where are these kids supposed to go to the bathroom?” Price asked as he pointed to a group of children on swings across from the restrooms.
Purdy said it is disturbing that vandalism is taking place so close to the Police Department.
“It’s almost like we’re in an inner city out in a rural community. I have police officers who have badges, guns and handcuffs, and these kids don’t care. They will spit at police officers,” Purdy said.
Police Chief Pat Moran said the restrooms have been locked for an extended period due to vandalism. At one time, damage to the building was repaired, and a few weeks later it happened again, Moran said.
“The bathrooms were set on fire at one point, and there was also feces and toilet paper smeared on the walls inside the bathroom. The siding was also ripped off the building at one point,” Moran said.
No arrests were made in connection with the vandalism, but there are cameras in the area, including one on the tower near the Police Department, Moran said. But it is not possible for someone to watch the camera around the clock, he said.
The township has also experienced vandalism at the Patriot Lake gazebo, he said.
Price pointed to Heritage and Pitney parks in neighboring Absecon as examples of what the township should move Patriot Lake toward becoming.
Absecon Mayor John Armstrong said the two parks are an attractive draw for the city, but they, too, are experiencing some vandalism.
The gazebo at Heritage Park has been vandalized multiple times this summer, and city officials are struggling with it, Armstrong said. Obscenities have been scrawled on the gazebo, and the structure’s panels have been knocked out by bicycles that are driven into the sides, he said.
The solution is not allowing the vandals to have control, because it sends a terrible message that vandalism is an acceptable behavior that the town cannot control, he said.
He said his advice is in no way critical of officials in Galloway.
“They’re facing the same problem we are. It’s just that you have to get at this and, yes, it does cost money. We’re all really worried about budgets right now, and it’s a challenge to keep up with these facilities, but you can’t give in,” Armstrong said.
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