Vandals strike refurbished benches on Green

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A wooden board taken from the nearest bench on the right lies on the Naugatuck Green. Borough teen Ryan Caulfield refurbished 19 benches on the Green last month for his Eagle Scout project and some of the benches are already being vandalized. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — When Ryan Caulfield finished refurbishing 19 benches on the Town Green for his Eagle Scout project, he said he was proud and relieved. Residents complimented him on the benches, which his team painted a light tan color that stands out against the dark green foliage of summertime.

A month later, having achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, 18-year-old Caulfield is disappointed and angry.

Vandals have already begun to damage the benches. A board has been removed from one bench and lies on the ground nearby. Others contain marks from skateboarders and profane graffiti.

“It took me a lot of time to plan it out and do the execution,” Caulfield said of his project, which required him to raise money for materials and direct a group of volunteers. “It didn’t even take a month after being finished that people could enjoy it. It just got ruined right away.”

Caulfield, of Naugatuck, decided to refurbish the benches after seeing how vandals had marred them over the years. One bench that Caulfield inventoried in April went missing entirely before the project began last month.

Caulfield spent 171 hours on his project, working late the night before Duck Day so most of the benches would be finished before the festivities began. He and his team spent at least an hour in the dark because someone had cut the wires to the lamps on the Green and the wires had ended up in a puddle, Caulfield said.

Vandals also frequently target the gazebo and fountain on the Green and the World War I memorial and Salem School playground across the street. Baby Jesus was stolen from Christmas Nativity scenes downtown for several years in a row.

Dan Sheridan, a Boy Scout district advancement chairman and member of the Board of Finance, asked the Board of Mayor and Burgesses on Tuesday to do something about the vandalism on the Green.

“This kind of thing has got to stop,” said Sheridan, who approves and reviews Eagle Scout projects in the borough and nearby towns. “It’s demoralizing to the kids. … I’m not going to encourage them to work on something that’s only going to be destroyed shortly thereafter.”

The board revisited the idea of increasing police patrols around the Green or installing security cameras, both possible solutions that have come up in the past.

Burgess Ronald San Angelo, who was mayor from 2003 to 2007, said his administration tried to increase police presence to combat vandalism at the Salem School playground, which had been newly installed. The police had other areas to patrol, and people would wait for them to leave so they could resume destroying the playground, San Angelo said.

After holiday displays were vandalized about four years ago, Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi said she looked into buying video cameras, but was told at the time a surveillance system would cost $40,000.

“There just wasn’t the money to support that in the budget,” Rossi said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said he has had conversations about surveillance cameras with Police Chief Christopher Edson, but they concluded the cameras would not deter vandals. The borough would also have to pay someone to monitor the camera footage, Mezzo said.

The borough in a matter of weeks will roll out iWatch, a smartphone application allowing users to submit anonymous tips, photos and video to the police department. Mezzo said he thought vigilant citizens could use the application to report vandalism to police.

“It won’t solve the crimes, but it will provide a little bit of a tip to them and hopefully a deterrent,” Mezzo said.