Basketball courts might be closed during school

By Tony E. Windsor

School officials are asking for the help of the Laurel Town Council in addressing a concern regarding basketball courts, loud music and foul language. On Monday night, Mayor John Shwed brought up the concern presented to him by Laurel School District Superintendent, John Ewald about situations at the town-owned basketball courts near Dunbar Elementary School on Townsend Street.

According to Shwed, Ewald said he had received complaints from neighborhood residents and Dunbar school staff about adult males playing on the basketball courts during school hours. The complaints stem from reports of "foul language and loud music." Ewald requested that the town consider closing the basketball courts during the hours that school is in session.

Councilman Chris Calio said he felt the town should close the basketball courts during school hours and set rules for all other hours that the courts are accessible. "Neighbors and school staff and kids should not have to put up with loud music and cursing," he said. Council President Terry Wright asked if Dunbar School has summer school. "I think the kids should have something to do during the summer," she said.

Shwed said the superintendent's concern was not about youth playing on the basketball courts during school hours, but more about the "adult males." Councilwoman Robin Fisher said not allowing the basketball courts to be used during school hours, especially considering this involves concerns about adult males, would be something that she feels parents would appreciate. "There are young children on the playground and given the problems we have heard about nationwide involving adults hanging around areas where children are accessible, I think parents would be appreciative if we did something to curtail this," she said.

Councilman Don Phillips suggested that instead of making an immediate decision, the council deal with the issue at its next meeting in March to allow members of the public an opportunity to offer some input.

"I think we could send letters to those people who live within a block of the basketball courts to let them know that the council will set aside time to listen to their thoughts about this," he said.

Shwed agreed and said that the council can re-visit the Webb Avenue basketball courts issue during its Monday, March 4, public meeting. Councilman Alan Schweitzer said he understands the rationale behind allowing public input into the issue; however, he feels the town should take some type of immediate action. "I am concerned that kids are being subjected to loud music and foul language," he said. "I think we should do something to help them out now."

Laurel Police Chief Jamie Wilson said the basketball courts have been an issue for police over the years. He said the courts can present a safety issue and he believes that by today's standards there would never be a basketball court built in a way that it backs up to the playground of an elementary school. He said he is not aware of any recent complaints coming into the police department from residents or school staff regarding the basketball courts.

Operations Manager Jamie Smith said the basketball courts on Webb Avenue are owned by the town. As such she said the town has the right to post signs like those in town-owned parks that list rules associated with participating in activities on the town-owned properties.

Shwed recommended that signs outlining rules that must be followed while on the basketball courts be posted immediately. He also said the school superintendent should be notified that school staff who hears the loud music or foul language should call police and they will respond. "This can be an immediate response to the problem and then on March 4, during the public council meeting we can decide whether the courts will be closed during school hours," he said.

The full council voted unanimously to accept the recommendation.

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