Teens to town: We just want a place to hang out

If a group of students wants to get together at open lunch or after school in town, where are they allowed to gather?

The public bathroom and parking lot at Old School Way isn’t the best option, town council and officers told them last week.

Where a better option is, they aren’t sure yet.

“But we can certainly look at it,” said town council President “Buzz” King. “We won’t just ignore it.”

Eight high-school-aged students visited the April 21 council meeting to talk about being directed to leave the public restroom/parking lot area by police.

Spokesman William Beasley said the students weren’t doing anything wrong; yet, an officer told them to leave and said they could not park on the lot or they’d be arrested or ticketed.

He knows other young people who’ve hung out there have caused trouble, “but can we punish every student for the actions of some?”

Shop owners have complained about loitering in that area for decades, said Police Chief Ben Seastrom.

He was also once a Nashville teen; so was King, and even 50-some years ago, officers asked King and his friends to move along, too, King said.

Seastrom said police “constantly arrest people” in the parking lot, often for possession of drugs. They’ve broken up a “fight club” in the bathrooms.

Parking commission President Lamond Martin said the bathrooms have been vandalized multiple times; sinks and changing tables have been pulled off the wall and set on fire.

At worst, vandals cause an average of $1,000 a month in damage, he said. Several months ago, security cameras were installed.

Seastrom had proposed that students gather in the Pat Reilly Boulevard parking lot instead — further away from shops and tourists.

But Beasley said that location poses other hazards. That’s where drug deals take place, he said. Students who aren’t involved in that crowd shouldn’t be exposed to that, he said.

Brian Yeatman said he doesn’t want his customers to be exposed to the actions of unruly teens, either. He spoke to the council after the teens left the meeting.

Every week he’s had to ask young folks to leave the area of the Nashville General Store because customers and other shop owners have complained about smoking, cussing and drinking, he said.

They also take up parking spaces that customers could use, when they could be parking at school, he said.

“There’s a reason why they’re not parking at school,” he said. “Their vehicles can be searched.”

Seastrom said town officers spent more than 60 hours last year just trying to find the kids another spot to congregate, after one person who’d been hanging out in the alley threatened to shoot a shop owner.

“This is a weekly call,” he said. “I don’t know what the remedy is.”

Brown County (Nashville) Volunteer Fire Chief Dallas “Dak” Kelp invited the teens to the fire station — pending the approval of other firefighters.

There, they’d have an overhang to gather under out of the weather — as long as they gave him an hour of “elbow grease” for each hour he gave them.

Kelp said he’d been one of those kids years ago, too.

In the meantime, Beasley said the group planned to talk to the owner of a vacant building in another part of downtown about gathering there.

Town council member Arthur Omberg — a former juvenile officer with the town police — handed Beasley his card, offering to help.

Officer Dan Klaker agreed that “there are a few that are ruining it for the group.” He encouraged students to report vandalism and drug dealing to officers, confidentially.

“We are there to make sure you guys are safe, have time to hang out and have your lunch and them go back and complete your education,” he said.

“Nine times out of 10, we are not looking for you.”

Martin also suggested the council look into parking meters again — something they’ve been talking about on and off for at least five years.

Seastrom and King said the Old School Way lot might be a good test area. “We wouldn’t do the whole town, just the areas that cause grief,” King said.

Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.