New skate park could open in fall

Years-long effort gains momentum, funding

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MANCHESTER — Several times every week, Jordan Cassese, 17, heads to the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park with some friends after school at BBA to ride his skateboard on the aging skateboard features there.

But they have to be careful to avoid catching their boards on the splintering plywood, exposed nail heads and worn-out metal sheeting from which the ramps and other features are made.

"It's pretty trashed," Cassese said. "Some of it is just super-distressed. We make it work, though. We do the best we can with what we got."

Cassese and his skater buddies were excited to hear that town officials and a group of volunteers are working to get a new skateboard park built in the fall not far from the existing space at Rec Park.

"I feel like that would be the best attraction at the Rec Park," he added. "It would be like our dream, pretty much."

Some dreams do come true.

Town officials have announced that they have raised $125,000 in new funding, bringing the total to $188,000 of the project's target cost of $250,000, said John O'Keefe, Manchester town manager.

With efforts ongoing to raise the remainder, an upcoming fundraiser has been set for 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12 at the new Union Underground restaurant.  The event is called Going Underground with the Skatepark.Activists are confident the funding will be secured in time to start work and open the new facility in the fall.

The goal is to design and construct a 5,000 square foot concrete skate park, with aesthetic features and gathering areas for spectators, family and friends.

O'Keefe said the existing facility was set up in the 1990s, with various wooden-base structures added over the years. But after all those years, it's time to upgrade the park to make it safer and more attractive.

"It has become increasingly clear that the existing skate park is on its last leg," O'Keefe said.

The effort has been under consideration for about five years, off and on, he noted. Now there is a committee of 15 working to push it over the finish line.

The town has issued a request for proposals for a company to complete the design and possibly build the park. The design should include features to allow skate boarders, skaters, scooter riders and bicyclists of varying degrees of expertise to use the park. It should also include landscaping and feature accents made of wood or marble — "visual elements to add to the aesthetics," O'Keefe said.

"We want it to be a safe and welcoming place where all people are welcome," he added.

The new location would be on the other side of the tennis courts, where the basketball court is. The existing skatepark would be converted into two or three basketball courts, O'Keefe said.

The bids will be opened on May 31.

There have been issues in the past with skaters rolling through downtown, which is a violation of town laws. But with the skatepark deteriorating, town officials wanted to provide the skating community with a more attractive alternative than skating on the sidewalks.

Matt Langan, a Manchester resident and "old school skater from the 80s," he noted, is part of the committee to build what they are calling the Manchester Action Sports Complex (MASC).

"I'm passionate about skateboarding and I think this would be a real thing for the community," he said. "It would entice tourists when they come into town, and it would be a fantastic addition to the park itself."

And with the closest skate parks in Burlington and North Adams, Mass., "this would be a nice, strategic location in Vermont," Langan said.

Fundraising for the project has taken on a more urgent tenor recently, and has resulted in some significant steps forward, such as the donation of $50,000 from the Orton family on behalf of the employees of The Vermont Country Store.

"We are very fortunate to be able to support this project, which will provide a world-class facility for our young people like my own children and older people like myself to gather and participate in a shared experience that bridges the generations," said Eliot Orton, proprietor of The Vermont Country Store. "This project adds to the momentum of people investing in projects across our region in an effort to make our home a better place to live and a more attractive place to visit."

Along with two other anonymous donors, recent donations have brought the total raised to $188,000, including $50,000 provided by the town of Manchester and an additional $12,000 in funding already secured.

The vision is to construct the project in three phases, with the work in the fall to be the first phase. If all three phases are completed, the skate park would reach 20,000 square feet, mirroring world-class concrete-based parks that can be found in Burlington and other parts of the U.S.

The fundraising event at Union Underground will feature live music, presentations about the park and a raffle. The committee is also putting up donation boxes in town designed from actual skateboards.

The park will also offer plenty of lighting and benches for viewing the skaters and riders in action.

Skateboarding has been a growing individual sport since the 1960s, claiming widespread popularity by the late 1970s. It is set to become an Olympic sport in 2020 in Tokyo.

According to the Tony Hawk Foundation, hundreds of municipalities have come to embrace the recreational — and societal — benefits of skateparks, which include supporting and empowering youth. Public skateparks are typically the most popular recreational facilities in communities that have them.

"Skateparks build and sustain healthy communities," noted the Tony Hawk Foundation in a prepared statement. "As a gathering place for dedicated, athletic youth, the skatepark provides the forum for visitors young and old, beginning and skilled, to meet and share experiences. For many skateboarding youth, the skatepark becomes a home-away-from-home."

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