By CHEA WATERS EVANS
Hinesburg Police Chief Frank Koss and Frank Twarog, chair of the Hinesburg Recreation Commission, used the same word to describe how they felt after a vehicle damaged the Bissonette Recreation Fields last week: frustrated.
Last Friday, Aug. 10, the person who mows the fields alerted a recreation commission board member that the fields were damaged. Word was relayed to Koss, who assessed the situation and took photographs on Sunday.
Koss said he is unsure when exactly the fields were vandalized, noting only that it had probably happened in the week prior to the discovery.
Tire marks indicate that a vehicle drove in circles around the field, and Koss said in tone of understatement, “It was kind of bad.”
Koss said he is confident that police will be able to narrow down the time frame, adding that they are “talking to a few people” and they are eager to gather more information from the public.
Unfortunately, the location off a main road makes it nearly impossible for passersby to easily see the fields, so it may not be likely that many witnesses may have seen the vandal or vandals in the act.
More than seven years of hard work went into creating two athletic fields, located on the corner of Shelburne Falls Road and Vermont Route 116. The property was donated to the town of Hinesburg by the Bissonette family, so the land is public, but all of the funds used to create the athletic fields came from private donations.
The fields were scheduled for soccer games this fall, but after being used only once, they are now closed, Twarog said.
He explained that the damage to Millie’s Field – the portion of the Bissonette Fields recently completed and dedicated in May – is significant and is going to cost a significant amount of time and money to repair.
There are two repair options, he said, that the recreation commission will discuss at a meeting within the next week. One option is to do patchwork repairs, and for the commission members and volunteers to do the work themselves. That would cost approximately $2,500, Twarog said. To do it properly, however, with appropriate topsoil, seeding, and grading, would likely cost much more, he added.
A contractor is currently working on the second field, which is scheduled to be finished in order for use next fall. It is now likely, Twarog said, that Millie’s Field will be unusable until the same time as the other field.
“The biggest frustration is how we really had gone into this project having properly built the field,” Twarog said, and that they did it right the first time in order to avoid having to do lower-quality quick-fix maintenance over time.
Chief Koss pointed out that the $2,500 damage estimate qualifies this act of vandalism to be a felony and charges could be brought against the perpetrators. However, Twarog, who is a criminal defense lawyer, said that he thinks this is an important learning opportunity for any involved.
“My assumption is that it’ s a younger person,” he said, or “a few younger people together being stupid, and that maybe there’s a learning lesson here for these people and their friends beyond being handed a felony.”
The damage goes beyond finances, Koss said, noting that money spent on the project “wasn’t taxpayer supported. It took hundreds of hours of volunteer time,” he said.
Twarog said the lesson to be learned here is one of personal responsibility, not one of criminal punishment.
“I think one of the things we’re learning as a society is that there’s not as much to be gained from criminal convictions as there is for people to take ownership, and learn, and not do it again. That’s more of what I would hope to get, more than a shaming or scarlet letter.”