Park District of Oak Park officials are used to dealing with vandalism. But in the vandalism of electrical boxes for 14 light towers at Austin Gardens, they’ve seen a troubling first.
“Someone decided to open the electrical access panel on each of the 14 light poles, which isn’t easy to do, and cut the wires,” Executive Director Gary Balling said of the vandalism at the park on Forest Avenue at Ontario.
Those wires, which carry 220 volts, were most likely cut sometime overnight Thursday. Total damages costs were estimated at $1,200. While a motive remains unclear, the park district’s superintendent for building’s and grounds. Mike Grandy, suspects one of two motives.
“One, they were looking to darken the park,” he said Friday. “Or two, they were planning to steal the copper wires.”
Grandy said the second motive, while not uncommon, held a serious risk of injury or death.
“This is not a frivolous or inexpensive prank,” he said of contacting high-voltage electrical wiring. “This could have gotten someone hurt.”
Grandy said he and park district staff were able to repair all 14 lights, splicing wires on 10 and replacing the transformer on four boxes.
Grandy said whoever got to the boxes had to know what they were doing.
“They used a specialized tool that’s not something the average person carries around in their back pocket,” he said. They also were carrying what he called very large wire cutters. Grandy said the park district replaced the old screws on the Austin Gardens light boxes with more secure screws installed with an even less common driver. Lighting in other parks in the system will likely be retrofitted as well.
“It will be something hardly anyone will have,” he said of the screwdriver-like device used with the newer fasteners.
Grandy, who earlier this year replaced several expensive bronze plaques stolen from park memorials, expressed frustration at the time and expense required to deal with such acts of theft or vandalism.
“It’s very frustrating for us. We’ve had some lights in place since 1965, and never experienced damage on this scale,” he said, adding he finds it hard to believe someone didn’t see someone opening any of the light boxes.
“I’d love to press charges on something like this,” he said.
Oak Park Detective Commander Clemet Harbour, who said police have no leads on a suspect yet, admitted he was a bit stumped for a reason why someone would risk a felony charge to vandalize so many lights
“I’m at a loss,” he said. “I couldn’t give you a reason why anyone would go to that extent.”