Keeping Bellevue “playable”

Even as Bellevue celebrated being named one of 241 “Playful Cities 2015” nationwide, borough officials committed themselves Tuesday to making sure that Bellevue’s parks continue to be “playable.”

Bellevue was one of a relatively small number of towns and cities across the country determined to offer recreational opportunities to all children. The announcement was made by KaBOOM!, a national non-profit organization “dedicated to ensuring that all kids get a childhood filled with the balanced and active play needed to thrive.”

The organization defines “playability” as “the extent to which a city makes it easy for all kids to get balanced and active play.”

Bellevue certainly offers a variety of parks and activities for children and adults. Bayne Park, in the center of town, offers an historic public library, a playground and a skate plaza. Gillott Field’s athletic fields on Davis Avenue are used for team softball, and the field also offers a playground.

A third playground is located at Memorial Park along Bellevue Road, which also features a swimming pool, picnic shelters, a baseball field, tennis and basketball courts, a hiking and biking trail, a fitness trail, and the Bellevue Dog Woods off-leash dog park.

The Playful Cities USA program also is sponsored by the Humana Foundation, and makes the borough eligible for an array of planning and programming materials, as well as the ability to apply for grant funds in the future.

“It is an honor for Bellevue Borough to be nationally recognized for our efforts to provide safe play opportunities for our children,” said Lynn Tennant Heffley, council vice president and parks and recreation committee chair.

And Bellevue plans to take those efforts very seriously, particularly in light of an incident last week in which an alleged drug dealer was robbed in Bayne Park by two men armed with guns, one of whom fired a shot that missed hitting anybody.

In response to that incident, Police Chief Matt Sentner announced that the park would begin closing a half hour before dusk, and loitering in the gazebo would not be permitted. The playground area would be restricted to parents and children, he said.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Heffley said that the parks committee would be reviewing and possibly rewriting the rules governing Bayne Park in an effort to combat some of the problems that have led to decreased use of the facility. Heffley said that statistics indicate that the library is seeing fewer people borrowing books and attending programs, and attributed that to a perception that the park is not safe.

One thing that will be done, she said, is an update to the park’s security camera system, as well as the addition of cameras.

Sentner said that there also will be an effort to move the older youths to the skate plaza area. Heffley said that adults, including those with small children, see groups of teenagers and young adults congregating at the front of the park and do not want to come in past them.

Several council members, however, questioned whether the borough should be chasing people out of the park right now.

If Bellevue wants to stop crime,said council member Vencent Menosky, it should “bring more people into the park, not less.”

Council member Linda Woshner agreed, saying that she did not favor closing the park early or keeping people from accessing any part of the property.

“I’m not saying this is a permanent solution,” Sentner said, adding that right now it was important to send a strong message that guns and drugs would not be tolerated in Bellevue’s parks.

“There’s a real problem, and we’re trying to address it,” said Heffley. “We’re not trying to close the park, we’re trying to make it a better experience for more people.”

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