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CHAMPAIGN — A rash of vandalism in two Champaign parks recently has officials planning to install security cameras in some parks.

“They are obviously an expense we would rather not have,” said Joe Kearfott, risk manager for the Champaign Park District.

Cameras have been ordered for Hessel Park in the 500 block of West Kirby Avenue and West Side Park, west of downtown between Church Street and University Avenue.

“We are considering others. It’s something we had talked about, but we weren’t there yet because we had other projects we were working on. But because of recent events, it kind of got pushed to the forefront,” Kearfott said of the camera installation.

Much of the recent vandalism has been in Hessel Park. There were fires set inside three trash cans about 12:50 a.m. July 9; fire in a trash can and a sign on a shelter was burned about 2:15 a.m. Tuesday; then a locked restroom was broken into about 1 a.m. Wednesday.

“They broke into a door. There was nothing stolen, but some things were broken. We are concerned with the increase in activity,” said Kearfott, who added that there is a system that automatically locks the restrooms after 10 p.m.

About 3 a.m. Tuesday, someone started a fire in a portable toilet near the baseball field at Champaign’s Eisner Park in the 1300 block of West Church Street, smashed an alcohol bottle on the basketball court and threw trash around the playground.

Champaign Deputy Fire Marshal Robert Simmons said because the toilet melted into a blob, there was no way to collect evidence.

Both Simmons and Kearfott urge people who live near parks to keep an eye out for suspicious activity, especially after the parks close, and to call 911 immediately upon seeing something that’s not quite right.

“To say we are frustrated is accurate,” Kearfott said. “We are adding surveillance cameras in several parks to discourage this activity.”

Meanwhile, Savoy officials are equally steamed about vandalism in Colbert Park on Church Street and William Smith Park on Prairie Rose Lane in the Prairie Fields subdivision that happened early Tuesday and again early Wednesday.

Village Administrator Christopher Walton told board members that portable toilets were burned in Colbert Park around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. A decorative wooden village sign was also damaged. Around that same time, portable toilets were burned at Smith Park.

Firefighters put out the fires, and during the day Tuesday, public works employees cleaned up the messes and replaced the units, only to have vandals return about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday to Colbert to burn four portable toilets.

Also early Wednesday, vandals cut down one memorial tree and took an axe to three others in Smith Park, damaging them.

Walton told the board that the village would pay to replace the memorial tree. He also said the distributor would replace the nicer ADA-compliant toilets that were burned with older models because they don’t have enough of the ADA models.

The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office was notified about the vandalism.

Any resident with video surveillance that could help should contact Champaign police at 217-351-4545 or the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office at 217-384-1213.

Tips can also be given anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 217-373-8477.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

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