2013-02-01 / Community

Little time left for Wilkinson Park Community Center

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


The Wilkinson Park Community Center has stood at the end of New York Avenue since the 1950’s, but was closed to the public in 2011. It will be demolished in February as neighborhood residents decide on the future of the area adjacent to the little league field. (Jack Flagler photo) The Wilkinson Park Community Center has stood at the end of New York Avenue since the 1950’s, but was closed to the public in 2011. It will be demolished in February as neighborhood residents decide on the future of the area adjacent to the little league field. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — Berwick Street resident Matt Green has lived off Main Street in South Portland, near the Scarborough town line, his entire life. When Green was growing up, the Wilkinson Park Community Center at the end of New York Avenue hosted dog shows, dances and offered snacks to neighborhood children after the Halloween parade.

“There’s a bit of an emotional tie to the building for members of the community who have been there a long time,” Green said.

The Wilkinson Park Community Center has a long history in the neighborhood, but it has fallen on hard times. Sometime in February, the building will be bulldozed.

The 2,132 square foot structure includes a large open space, as well as kitchen and bathroom facilities. It has stood next to the Wilkinson Park Little League Field since 1950, originally under the name Sunset Park. The building and the property it sits on were donated to the city in 1994 by the Wilkinson family, according to a presentation from Parks and Recreation Director Rick Towle held at a forum for city officials and neighborhood residents on Jan. 16 at South Portland Community Center.

Today, the vinyl siding of the building is pockmarked with dents from hundreds of wayward baseballs. The layers of floor under the surface tile contain asbestos and there are long-term mechanical issues beyond the point of repair.

The city doesn’t employ anyone with special training and certification to remove the hazardous asbestos from the site. Another group will handle that task, then city employees will finish the demolition.

Towle said at a workshop with South Portland City Council members on Monday, Jan. 28, he would like the building to be gone by the beginning of March. He estimates the cost of the demolition to be between $5,000 and $10,000. When the building is gone, Towle will hold another community forum with neighborhood residents to discuss the next steps of the plan.

Towle estimated the cost of updating the building at around $145,000, and said most residents agreed with his assertion that the building was not worth the cost to revitalize it, especially with hazardous materials present in the flooring.

The asbestos didn’t pose a danger to anyone who was in the building before it was closed to the public in 2011 because it was buried in the flooring, but Towle said at the workshop, “The more you start digging, the worse this will get.”

Green said many of his neighbors feel the same nostalgic connection to the community center he has, but they understand its time has come.

“Everyone seemed to agree that the current structure is not worth trying to rehab,” Green said.

That leaves neighborhood residents and city officials with a decision to make about the future of the property.

One suggestion Towle envisions is an outdoor pavilion in which visitors could sit and have both the existing playground as well as the Little League field in view.

Parents could supervise children in both areas and families could enjoy a picnic at a group of tables under a roof.

City Manager Jim Gailey said the potential patio area would look something like the Coca-Cola Picnic Area in Hadlock Field, an area near the right field foul line in which fans can watch from covered picnic tables.

On the low end, Towle estimated that project may cost about $35,000. If residents and staff decide to add to that vision with a small building, either a one-room meeting space, public bathroom, kitchen facility for snacks at the baseball games, or some combination of those, the cost could run to about $120,000.

Those plans and ideas are still in flux, and will be discussed in early March. Green thinks he and his neighbors will have more of an “open mind” at the March meeting, because the community center will be gone and neighborhood residents’ decisions won’t be clouded by looking at a building that holds so many fond memories.

Return to top