The City of Brookings is considering building a caretaker's unit at Azalea Park, primarily to save time transferring maintenance equipment from park to park, but also as a "presence" to deter vandalism, said City Manager Gary Milliman.

The most recent vandalism that took place at the popular facility was before Christmas, when two Brookings girls stole the baby Jesus doll from its manger display. The doll was found with profanity scribbled on it; the two girls involved were cited.

Other vandalism discovered there involved the Nature's Coastal Holiday extravaganza, as well, including among its decorations a 450,000-light display, which caused about $250 in damage. Last summer, someone broke into the snack shack adjacent to the bandshell, leaving a cryptic message in ketchup apologizing for the break-in, but admitting they were hungry.

"At some point, the Capella (by the Sea) will be a target," said Councilor Kelly McClain at a city meeting last month. "Once it gets in the media, it's a target; that's the way this area is."

The clam-shaped bandshell has had to be replaced once due to vandalism, as well.

There already exist several security cameras on the site, but city councilors believe a volunteer caretaker could further reduce "shenanigans" in the park. McClain said he was concerned about the "quality of person" they might get for the job.

"He'll be a crotchety, gray-haired old man with two pit bulls," joked Mayor Ron Hedenskog.

The proposal, which was initially brought up about three years ago, is in its conceptual stage, Milliman said. Zoning would preclude housing such as a mobile home or travel trailer. If built, it would likely be a small, one-bedroom unit with an attached shop and storage facility for park maintenance equipment. A stick-built unit can be constructed for about $67 a square foot.

"Hooray!" said Shirley Hyatt, president of the Azalea Park Foundation, who has been behind such an endeavor for years. "If people are willing to take this idea seriously, I'm thrilled. It's long overdue and a great idea. I'm jumping up and down!"

Currently lawnmowers and other tools used at the park are stored at a yard near Railroad Avenue and Wharf Street or at the wastewater treatment plant.

In exchange for the free housing, a park keeper would be responsible for basic maintenance at Azalea Park, including mowing the lawn, opening the building, cleaning restrooms and picking up litter.

Hyatt believes a caretaker should get a small stipend, but said getting anyone in to enforce park rules is a great start.

"Someone to point out the rules," she said. "You can't skateboard down the grass; you can't ride your bike in the mud andndash; a lot of issues like that. These are walking paths and, right now, there are no rules."

Having a unit, shop and storage facility there would also save park employees time and the city money transferring equipment back and forth from the Railroad Street storage. Azalea Park uses about 25 percent of the city's park maintenance needs.

The council commended efforts being made by Parks Supervisor Tony Baron to work more closely with the Azalea Park Foundation, a group of volunteers that takes care of the azaleas and rhododendrons at the 33-acre park.

A parcel of native azaleas the city has taken care of in the past is now being supervised by the foundation, whose members are teaching park employees how to better nurture the native plants andndash; some are which were here when Lewis and Clark wintered in the state in 1805-06 and comprise five endangered species.

The caretaker's unit will be among topics of discussion at a 7 p.m. Jan. 24 Parks and Recreation meeting at city hall.