Jump start for skateboard park envisioned

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MANCHESTER — The Select Board renewed its commitment to building a permanent skateboard park at Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park on Tuesday, appointing a 15-member committee to kick-start a process that has lagged in the five years since town meeting set aside $50,000 for the purpose.

A number of residents, including skaters and parents of skaters, attended and joined in discussion of how the current wooden skate ramp structures at the park fell into disrepair, and what steps the town should take to breathe life into the project. Audience members suggested jump-starting the process with additions and repairs at the current park site, to improve safety and drum up support.

The discussion began ahead of its place on the agenda as town manager John O'Keefe shared a draft map of potential additions and changes at the park, which includes moving the skate park site from its current position near the Park House to a location between the regulation baseball field and the tennis courts. O'Keefe said that the new location would be "more noticeable and visible."

The proposed new site wasn't fully embraced, as some felt the current location is where the skate park belongs. "Where it is, it's not bad — it's just falling apart," said Wesley Boucher of Manchester.

When discussion turned to the skate park project itself, O'Keefe said the current structures are beyond salvage.

"I don't see any hope for the current park," he said. "It would cost a lot of money and rebuilding it is the definition of insanity ... there's a reason we don't build sidewalks out of wood." He advocated for using $20,000 of the money in the skate park account — $10,000 of it donated to the initiative and $10,000 from the town — to generate an engineering plan that would set the groundwork for permanent concrete structures.

But Manchester resident Tim Waker, asking if the money for the project is currently available, suggested a different approach. Noting that cement skate parks can cost as much as $400,000, he suggested building a new set of wooden ramps for far less, so skaters could use now and for the next several years while planning and fundraising moves forward. "I think at least for that we can get something nice for kids to ride on," he said.

Another Manchester resident, Zed Mack, said that in Ludlow, the skating community had built a park on its own, including concrete ramps, for far less money. "It's easy to put something together that's skateable," he said. "That way we're ushering out the nail-infested death trap vibe that's going on."

Board chairman Ivan C. Beattie was sympathetic to that idea, but cautioned that he didn't want to "take money we have and spend it on something that's not going forward."

What the board and the project advocates agreed upon was that there's a need, to move forward as soon as this spring. Board member Greg Cutler was among those voicing concerns that the current wooden ramps are a safety hazard and a potential liability threat.

"We dropped the ball. These kids have been waiting," Manchester resident Sylvia Jolivette said, urging the board to act.

The board then met in executive session for about 10 minutes to discuss the appointment of committee members, returning with the following panel to spearhead the project anew: Patty and Sam Eisenhauer,Tim Waker, Leon Ward, Frank Parent, John Kelly, Matt Langan, Tom Deck, Bill Strecker, Sonia Sikora, Zed Mack, Wesley Boucher, and town staff including O'Keefe, parks and recreation director Liz Ambuhl and Manchester Police Officer Ryan Matteson.

In other business, the board heard from Phyllis Lewis of Manchester, who had put forward a petition for the town meeting warning seeking $2,500 to help the Green Mountain Club rebuild the observation tower on Bromley Mountain in Peru.

At its last meeting, the select board, on the advice of legal counsel, decided not to include Lewis' petition on the town meeting warning, as it did not specifically list a recipient for the funds, was outside Manchester and did not direct funds to a human service agency. On Tuesday, Lewis sought an explanation, and asked again to address town meeting about the project.

She made a case that the project and the Green Mountain Club do offer social service benefits, including direct student involvement with the outdoors. And she pointed out that other towns included the question on their town meeting warnings.

While the board did not change its mind, as the town meeting warning has already been approved, members Jan Nolan and Wayne Bell pointed out that Lewis would be able to speak during the "other business" portion of the meeting and have an opportunity to promote the project to residents.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000 or at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com

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