Vandals prompt talk of cameras

A granite bike rack sculpture created by Plainfield artist Heather Ritchie was recently vandalized outside the Barre municipal pool. JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR / STAFF PHOTO

A granite bike rack sculpture created by Plainfield artist Heather Ritchie was recently vandalized outside the Barre municipal pool. JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR / STAFF PHOTO

BARRE — Lights, cameras, action?

City councilors want all three in the wake of a recent rash of vandalism they were told caused irreparable damage to a sculptural bike rack at Rotary Park and will require interior and exterior repairs to the nearby pool house.

Some wanted the lights and the cameras faster than others and were willing to authorize City Manager Steve Mackenzie to immediately acquire and install them without identifying where the money would come from, or vetting other security-related options.

The council was united in its belief that lights and cameras could deter — and potentially apprehend — vandals. But its two newest members worried the idea, floated by Mayor Thomas Lauzon, hadn’t been fully thought through.

Councilor Sue Higby said she was a proponent of cameras and believed motion-activated lighting could be an effective deterrent. However, she would prefer postponing action until the council had a plan with a price tag to consider.

Councilor Brandon Batham said he was worried the council was “reacting on the fly” while spending taxpayer money.

“I’d rather us act on something that’s fleshed out, as opposed to saying: ‘Just go buy cameras,’” he said.

Higby’s motion to table action on the unwarned item failed 5-2, amid Lauzon’s call for swift response.

Citing the park’s remote location and a history of vandalism that includes three separate incidents this spring and two in the last two weeks, Lauzon urged the council to act.

“The problem doesn’t seem to be going away, it seems to be worsening and I’d like to get that asset protected,” he said of the park.

A majority supported that request, comforted in part by the reality that Mackenzie can’t spend more than $5,000 without obtaining council approval. The vote was 5-2.

Though Higby and Batham both questioned the process, neither quibbled with the goal of doing something to address a string of vandalism that includes the damage detected Monday.

Jeff Bergeron, director of Buildings and Community Services, said a sculptural bike rack carved by Heather Ritchie was damaged by vandals, who tossed a boulder at the granite artwork, taking a sizable chunk out of it. Though the sculpture wasn’t ruined, he said, the damage couldn’t be repaired.

Bergeron said the pool house can be fixed, and will have to be, after vandals forced their way into the building, opened a supply closet and threw bocce balls through the inside walls.

“It’s frustrating,” Bergeron said, noting the exterior of the pool house has also been vandalized in recent weeks. And last fall the restrooms of the nearby tennis courts had to be closed after sinks and toilets were smashed, steel doors kicked in, and toilet paper dispensers ripped from the walls.

“It’s a target … for some reason,” he said of the park, which includes a popular playground, picnic shelter, tennis courts and the municipal swimming pool.

Lauzon estimated vandalism at the park has cost $10,000 over the last five years. The city carries insurance, but there is a $1,000 deductible and the three incidents this spring will cost $3,000.

Bergeron said Barre has limited experience with surveillance cameras. One was installed on the front of City Hall and trained on the gazebo across the street after it was repeatedly vandalized.

According to Bergeron, that system didn’t work well, partly because of the quality of the camera and the distance between the gazebo and City Hall. It also had to be checked every 24 hours due to limited storage capacity.

With a previously forecast $54,000 surplus rapidly eroding as the end of the current fiscal year approaches, Mackenzie said he would carefully consider the unbudgeted expense and didn’t object to returning to the council with a proposal.


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