Padaric, a 17-year-old Heidelberg resident and EDSS student, died of an accidental drug overdose in April, and friend Trevor Olender told council that the gesture would raise discussion of the dangers of drug abuse.
Olender launched the petition shortly after his classmate’s death, accumulating 2,000 names, many of them on the petition website www.change.org. In his PowerPoint presentation, he read testimonials from Padaric’s teachers and families, and said the gesture would be more than a memorial.
“It’s also a means of inspiring current and future youth … and make them aware of the dangers of drugs, and show them other alternatives,” said Olender.
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Earlier, the Wellesley recreation board had suggested the park be named “the AMP,” for Padaric’s initials – the vagueness being an intentional strategy to get young people talking amongst themselves.
“If kids want to know why the park is named ‘the AMP,’ the story will be brought about, and kids will be aware of how fragile life really is,” explained Olender.
“I want to emphasize that it’s not about naming the park after my son,” added mother Christine Padaric. “The park would be a foundation I would continue to grow upon … We have to accept the reality that drugs are a problem in our community.
“Whatever way we’re communicating with our kids now is not hitting home. We have to find a different way … Austin’s friends at school, they’ve embraced this as an opportunity to continue to communicate that message that there are dangers involved with drugs.”
While Mayor Ross Kelterborn was concerned that the petition did not separate Wellesley Township residents from non-local signees, council eventually voted to accept the results.
Concerns were also raised that Wellesley has little history of naming public facilities after people living or dead, and while facilities director Brad Voisin said that most municipalities had bylaws, Wellesley has none. Kelterborn suggested that a policy be put in place before proceeding any further.
But referencing the youth-dominated audience in council chambers, Coun. Shelley Wagner said, “At some point, we have to consider thinking of what our younger generation would like … [the skate park] is not for me, it’s for you kids.
“We keep saying we need things for them to do and places for them to spend their time constructively, but we have to listen to what they have to say.”
Wagner also suggested that a memory wall might be incorporated, on which community members who have lost a child under age 19 could donate a plaque in their name.
“I sure like the idea of trying to put a positive spin on a tragedy to help others,” added Kelterborn.
As Padaric was an avid skateboarder, councillors agreed that the ‘AMP’ name would be best suited for just the skateboard section of the sports pad.
Council voted unanimously to direct staff to prepare a policy in relations to the naming of specific facilities in the township, to be brought back to a future committee meeting.
Voisin is looking at July 9 as the date when the issue could return to council.
Added Wagner to the audience, “It does take a little time to develop a policy. It may not happen really fast, but we’re not going to just let it go under the rug.”