The water is back on in Jackson city parks, but the city says other issues raised by a local resident and business owner about the state of facilities and equipment will be addressed as part of routine maintenance practice, as usual.
Brenda Pfefferkorn came to the Jackson Board of Aldermen meeting June 4 to share her concerns about the conditions of the city's parks and showed officials photos of bathrooms she said were dirty, with missing sinks and no doors on their stalls, playground equipment that she described as rusted, broken and improperly installed and water spigots that were locked or had their handles removed to prevent their use.
Pfefferkorn said she felt nervous about making a public statement but that numerous fellow residents, both friends and strangers, have thanked her for speaking up since she made her appeal to the board, citing the same concerns as she has about park conditions.
"The parks are beautiful, as far as the grounds," Pfefferkorn said. As for as the bathrooms and play equipment, she plans to keep the issue alive with the board of aldermen.
"I'm going to come back, because I want something to happen," Pfefferkorn said.
Pfefferkorn, who has owned Tender Care Playhouse in Jackson for 22 years, said she uses the parks regularly to provide recreation for the children in her care but has often felt forced by the dilapidated conditions to travel to Cape Girardeau or the county parks instead. She said she had repeatedly noticed that when fixtures broke, they were not replaced and that playground equipment was not installed according to code or was falling into potentially dangerous disrepair.
"The lock on the water is what did me in," Pfefferkorn said to the board June 4. After witnessing a child rinsing a bloody injury in a park water fountain because no other running water was available, she decided to contact the city, she said.
City administrator Jim Roach told Pfefferkorn that the water was locked because of abuse, such as being left on for extended periods or used for play activities by park visitors. The policy at that time was to unlock the water when people paid to use the park shelters, but Roach said the city would look again at the issue.
Shane Anderson, who has been the Jackson parks and recreation director for 15 years, said the water policy was due to incidents last year in which spigots were left running and caused muddy, messy conditions around the shelters. The water was turned back on June 5, he said, in response to Pfefferkorn's feedback as the department continues to look at ways to mitigate damage caused by water. Anderson said all bathrooms should have had running water in the sinks at all times.
Pfefferkorn said she noticed the water was turned back on two days after the meeting. She visited the board again Monday, thanked aldermen and asked if there were any updates about the city's plans to address the other issues she raised. Mayor Barbara Lohr said there was no further information available.
Regarding the overall park conditions, Anderson said that bathrooms are checked and cleaned at least three times per week and play equipment and grounds are inspected at least once weekly and repaired as needed.
He said there is funding for basic repairs to be made as needed and major upgrades are discussed yearly as part of the budgeting process. Public feedback on problems seen in the park is always welcome, he said.
"It shows they care," Anderson said. "I care, too."
One of the biggest issues Pfefferkorn identified was the lack of doors on the bathroom stalls. She said that the children she accompanies to the restroom are uncomfortable and feel exposed.
Roach said the doors were removed due vandalism and safety issues, such as people hiding in the bathrooms.
Anderson said the park board approved removal of the doors after an incident in 1999, when a young girl was attacked and "partially sexually molested" in a bathroom. The board decided to "err on the side of safety," he said. Until recently, he said, there has not been a strong complaint about the policy and there is no plan at present to change it.
Lt. Rodney Barnes, public information officer for the Jackson Police Department, said there have been numerous incidents of vandalism in the park bathrooms but that numbers were not immediately available.
Officer Darin Hickey of the Cape Girardeau Police Department said most incidents in Cape Girardeau's park bathrooms are vandalism by children and adolescents but that officers regularly patrol all the city's 23 parks.
Brock Davis, Cape Girardeau's parks and recreation manager, said that he relies on the police to manage safety in the bathrooms rather than removing the doors, due to privacy issues. Associate Commissioner Jay Purcell said that county park bathrooms all have doors, as well.
Lohr and Roach did not respond to phone and email messages left Thursday afternoon.
Jackson City Park, Jackson, MO
101 Court St., Jackson, MO