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South Portland seeks input on park's future

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Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 5:28 pm | Updated: 5:31 pm, Tue Apr 9, 2013.

SOUTH PORTLAND – Now that the dilapidated clubhouse in Wilkinson Park has been demolished, South Portland has set a neighborhood meeting to court ideas for the future of the 9-acre site on New York Avenue.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23, at the South Portland Community Center. Residents who cannot make the meeting are invited to send their comments to Parks and Recreation Director Rick Towle by emailing or calling 767-7650.

The clubhouse dated to 1950, when John J. Wilkinson gave 9.47 acres at the end of New York Avenue to the Sunset Park Men’s Club, using land left over from one of the first major, mid-century subdivisions in South Portland. The club built the 2,132-square-foot clubhouse that summer, relying largely on volunteer labor. The park also included ball fields and a playground and Wilkinson’s only stipulation was that the property had to be used continually for public recreation. Otherwise ownership would revert back to him or his heirs.

But within a generation, the men’s club – having since changed its name to the Sunset Park Community Club – was in trouble. Records at the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds show six separate tax liens were placed on the property after 1988. Finally, in March 1994, the club worked with Wilkinson to sign the property over the city and disbanded soon after.

Reportedly, little money was put into the building even after the city took it on and official use fell from virtually every weekend for the better part of three decades to just 16 function rentals in its final full year of use.

After a year of debate, dating to before Towle came in the scene, the council agreed in January, with backing from area residents, to demolish the old clubhouse, work delayed temporarily while hazardous material crews from Westbrook-based Abatement Professionals cleared asbestos from layers of floor tile.

What happens next is unclear. Residents at a Jan. 16 neighborhood meeting appeared divided on what type of structure, if any, should replace the clubhouse, and where in the park it should be located. Also up in the air, the construction of new amenities like walking trails and the rehabilitation of existing features, like the park’s playground and basketball court, as well as a play field behind the current little league diamonds that has largely gone to seed.

The 2013-2014 Capital Improvement Projects budget approved by the City Council at its April 1 meeting includes $60,000 for updating Wilkinson Park, using money taken from the city’s undesignated surplus. According to Towle, the city also has “about $40,000” remaining from money previously appropriated by the council to work on the clubhouse.

Welcome to the discussion.