Residents seek changes to Southwood Park

Kyle Riviere
Southwood Park's concession stand has been repeatedly vandalized and painted with graffiti. Photo by Kyle Riviere.

Ever since the flood tore through the parish, it has been one of the Recreation Committee’s chief priorities to make improvements to the area’s parks that were damaged.

These repairs have been taking place ever since, and committee director Ricky DeArmond gave a status report at the Recreation Committee meeting last Tuesday night.

DeArmond said, “We’re developing a plan of action for the Hillaryville Park. As soon as it dries out, we will begin dirt work. The elevation has already been done. We will stake out the layout of this work.”

In last month’s meeting, DeArmond said that work on this park would be done in phases.

He went on to say that since last month’s meeting, 6-foot fences have been installed in both the Skate Park and the Southwood Park in Prairieville.

The reason the fence was needed at Southwood was because of “outside influences” vandalizing the park after hours.

In last month’s meeting, DeArmond said, “We’ve been receiving a number of complaints from this park. We have covered graffiti twice in the past two weeks,” DeArmond said. “Neighbors and residents in this area have had enough of this park. They want it closed, but in an effort and attempt to make this park safer for residents living around this area, we’ve requisitioned a 6-foot fence to be placed around the park. A resident group that supports the park will lock it at dusk and open it in the morning on their way out to work.”

DeArmond said that the new fence has been helpful, but residents of the neighborhood still have many concerns.

Joseph Neal and Billy Berteau were both in attendance at the committee meeting on Tuesday to voice those concerns.

Neal suggested that this fence surround the entire park. Currently, there are portions of the park that are not enclosed by the new fence.

He said that people have broken a resident’s wooden fence and used it as a walkway over a ditch to gain access to the area.

Neal went on to express his concerns over he and his neighbors’ safety.

He said, “I’m just worried that one night bad deals will go down, and my house is so close, I’m going to see a bullet go through my house. That’s just my concern. I think we need to secure the park all the way around.”

Berteau echoed the sentiment, saying that the park has continuously been a tumultuous environment that puts nearby residents in danger.

“We always talk about what we’re going to do with this park, but honestly, nothing’s been done,” Berteau said. “It’s bad. It’s full of drugs. I don’t even let my kids go to this park. It’s not a kid park. It’s a drug park and a hangout park. It’s terrible.”

Berteau said that the park currently has offensive graffiti on playground equipment, and there is more graffiti in the concession stand.

He said that just recently, police arrested four suspects from the stand after two girls reported that people were there “making funny noises and doing drugs.”

Berteau said that a month prior to that, a man was arrested in the park when they found him in the dark “shooting up on heroin.”

“We need our neighborhood to come together and fix this. If we’re not going to fix it, let’s just close it. Nothing good is happening there,” Berteau said.

He said that the fence they instilled has been working, but like Neal, he suggested the fence be added to the entire park.

“That’s the only way we won’t continually have these problems,” Berteau said. “Put cameras. That’s another way of catching them. You can see what’s going on in your park. That doesn’t cost much money. We can find the people that are trying to destroy our park.”

He also suggested improvements in lighting. That’s an idea the committee thought was feasible, despite the cost of such a solution.

Due to the poor current lighting, only five baseball teams practice on the field. If the lighting improves, it could allow more teams to occupy the field in the evenings.

Councilman Travis Turner said that having more teams playing will deter troublemakers from entering the park.

“Most crimes tend to happen when there’s low traffic, so if there are a lot of teams out there practicing, it will be less of an issue,” Turner said.

The committee will look into improvements in lighting, the installation of cameras and the expansion of the fence to improve the park in the immediate future.