OLEAN — Burglars vandalized the William O. Smith Recreation Center this week, stealing cash and causing damage to both city property and privately owned vending machines.
Olean Police Department officials told the Olean Times Herald Thursday the damage was discovered Tuesday morning by city employees. Police believe at least two suspects gained access to the city-owned facility either Monday night or early Tuesday morning by climbing onto the roof, smashing a skylight and jumping down approximately 16 feet to the floor.
From there the suspects used a drill to break into a container holding cash, tipped over vending machines and destroyed an ATM, police said.
“They basically trashed the place,” said Olean Police Capt. Robert Blovsky, head of the department’s Criminal Investigation Unit. “They went above and beyond to make sure they did damage to a lot of expensive stuff.”
Police declined to say how much cash was stolen, while city officials said they are still calculating the total cost of the damages.
The East State Street recreation center just underwent a $3.26 million renovation that was completed with the reopening of the center’s pool last summer.
“I mean, the paint is hardly dry on the improvements over there and you have some people who just want to ruin it for everybody,” said Olean Police Chief Jeff Rowley. “That’s why we’re hoping to solve this case and hold the ones who did it responsible.”
There are no security cameras at the center and police had yet to make any arrests as of Thursday evening, but Blovsky said investigators “have some persons of interest we’re talking to right now.”
Whoever the suspects are, it’s possible this wasn’t their first time breaking into the center.
The facility was burglarized in a similar fashion less than three months ago, as burglars also broke in through a skylight and then tipped over a vending machine April 28, Blovsky said.
Burglars weren’t able to extract cash from the vending machine during the April burglary, but this week’s burglars were able to — though they did not gain access to the cash inside the ATM they destroyed.
Blovsky and Rowley, while not ruling out that the burglary was committed by adults, alluded to the fact it was possibly committed by juveniles. They noted teenagers often use piping and other methods to climb onto the center’s roof.
A 15-year-old male was charged in 2016 for breaking into the center the year prior.
“If any of the kids have seen anything on social media or anything like this has been mentioned or they know anyone who’s been talking about it, that would be helpful,” said Rowley, adding community members’ calls to police can be kept confidential.
They also noted that, considering the extra vandalism, the work appeared to be done by amateurs.
“Professionals are going to want to go in, get what they got to get and get out,” Rowley said. “They don’t want to spend time in there being reckless and damaging the property for no financial gain.”
As for how much money that damage — and subsequent cleanup — is going to cost taxpayers, Olean Mayor Bill Aiello said city officials still aren’t sure, but it could be “significant.” He added the city has already replaced the broken skylight and are trying to hire outside contractors to repair some doors that were also damaged.
The private companies that own the vending machines and ATM will also be financially hurt by the damage, he noted.
“This is a terrible thing,” Aiello said of the burglary. “It’s a sad day when these things occur.”
While the break-in caused plenty of damage, it doesn’t appear to have impacted the center’s day-to-day operations. After the vandalism was reported to police at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday, summer activities inside the center continued as usual later that same morning, Aiello said. However, he noted visitors had to check in at a different location than usual while police investigated the scene.
Summer activities at the recreation center include roller skating, floor hockey, kids yoga and swimming. The facility generates roughly $200,000 annually for the city in use fees and rents.
Rowley and Blovsky said the center, which opened in 1979, has been broken into seven or eight times during their roughly 25 years with the department. However, they said this most recent break-in stands out.
“Normally they’re not as destructive,” Rowley said. “They break in, maybe steal some money and candy, but these guys went out of their way just to destroy property for no apparent reason.”