|Williamstown Select Board Hears Plan for Updated Skate Park
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:53AM / Wednesday, January 24, 2024
|One conceptual design for a new Williamstown skate park that advocates are showing to town officials. The Select Board on Monday said it is not yet ready to endorse a new skate park.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday night heard a presentation from a group that hopes to renovate and upgrade the town's skate park on Stetson Road across from Bud Anderson Field.
Bill MacEwan of the New England Mountain Bike Association told the board that the existing facility is both out of date and in disrepair, with cracks in the asphalt surface that make the existing ramps dangerous for skateboarders and other users of the jumps.
Even leaving aside the deterioration in the 20-year-old facility, it is underutilized, MacEwan said.
"Great intentions when it was built," he said. "This was a common solution, to build a pre-fabricated steel structure on an asphalt pad. Even from Day 1, the layout of the park was not super functional. You've got a very linear structure. The ramps are narrow.
"It is a skate park, but it's not something that's suitable to a broad audience. It's actually kind of an advanced park. It's pretty difficult for kids to make use of it."
The solution, MacEwan said, is to start over with a modern facility like one recently developed in Manchester, Vt., he said.
NEMBA estimates that such an 8,000-square-foot park could be built at the cost of $750,000 and still leave room for other outdoor activities on the town-owned property.
The non-profit is scheduled to appear before the town's Community Preservation Committee
on Wednesday to talk about a request for $75,000 in CPA funds toward that project.
On Monday, it was asking the Select Board to sign a memorandum of understanding that would allow NEMBA to raise money and seek grants to be used exclusively for the project, "survey and otherwise consult members of the community," move ahead with design and solicit bids.
The town ultimately would have final say on the selection of a contractor and would receive the park upon its completion, according to the MOU.
While members of the board were generally supportive of the NEMBA-led initiative, they stopped short of making a motion to sign the memorandum of understanding, partly because they felt they needed to take time to study the issue before committing the town to the project.
"I want to make sure if we do anything down there, we consider all the possible uses," Andrew Hogeland said. "You could grow [the park surface] pretty easily to 18,000 square feet, which gives you lots of room for the amenities."
The land that currently includes a skate park not only is across from the town's youth baseball field but also is abutted by the Mohican Trail multipurpose recreation path. Among the potential uses for the site mentioned at Monday's meeting were an outdoor basketball court, a pickleball court and the "multi-use fitness court" that is envisioned by Town Manager Robert Menicocci, who also will be before the CPC on Wednesday seeking $115,000 toward a $215,000 project.
"I guess I want to suggest some better planning, coordination going forward between these four or more potential uses so we understand better from the town what uses they want," Hogeland said. "I've never seen it used for skateboarding, so I have no idea what the depth of interest is for that. I've never seen Bob's exercise court before, so I don't know what their utility is.
"I'd like to know which of these uses or others are the most popular ones and to which we should dedicate space, because we have limited space and limited money."
MacEwan pointed to the clause of the MOU on consulting members of the community to point out that consideration of utilizing the whole space always was on NEMBA's radar.
"It's important for us to have a degree of support from the town to keep investing time and energy into these things," he said. "We're very keen to discuss how this use can be done in synergy with the other uses you described. I think a skate park will work better if there's other stuff around it."
That said, he also noted an existing town open space study that supports the idea of a more functional skate park.
"One of the graphs that's quite notable asked residents how they feel about recreational space for different age demographics," MacEwan said. "The area that was identified as sort of the biggest unmet need was for teenagers. I think this is a space that aligns very well with the research that has been done to date."
Select Board Chair Jeffrey Johnson told MacEwan that the board's failure to sign on to the MOU does not indicate a lack of interest.
"We're at a point where we want to have more information," Johnson said. "Tell your group not to feel discouraged. We have something here. We need to develop it."
The board did agree to sign on to a resolution supporting a "paint stewardship" bill that has been languishing on Beacon Hill.
Dalton's Thomas Erwin asked the town to join dozens of municipalities across the commonwealth in endorsing the program
, which would create a point-of-sale fee of up to $1 per gallon of paint purchased to fund a recycling program that any Massachusetts resident can use simply by returning used cans to a retail location.
"A paint stewardship law would create a convenient collection network to properly manage all architectural paint from business and residential sectors and substantially decrease inappropriate discarding of paint, which is a toxic substance that can cause harmful environmental pollution," the resolution reads, in part.
Erwin, who also spoke to the North Adams City Council, explained that legislative leaders have told him and other advocates that a demonstration of support from local communities would help push the bill across the finish line in Boston, where it has wide support, including from the Berkshire County delegation.
"It has never been rejected by the legislature, but it has never advanced," he said, indicating that the bill has gotten lost in the mountain of legislation at the capitol each session.
While all members of the Select Board endorsed the idea, the vote to sign on to the resolution was 4-1.
Hogeland, who said he personally agreed with the paint stewardship model, cited a past practice of the board of "staying in its lane" and not making decisions that do not directly impact town government.
Jane Patton, the longest tenured member of the board, said she understood Hogeland's hesitation but nevertheless joined the majority.
"Is this one of those few times where we say 'With respect to adhering to the norms and protocols and typical procedures, in this particular case, we could see our way to doing what we do not often do,' " Patton said. "And this is not an open call for everybody to come and ask us to agree to whatever resolution."
Hogeland stood firm.
"It's a slippery slope," he said. "It's an attractive slippery slope, because it's a good cause. I'm happy to lose this [vote]."
In other business on Monday, the Select Board:
• Held a joint meeting with the Finance Committee that focused less on the fiscal year 2025 budget than on the future of town finances and the need to stimulate growth in the tax base.
• Approved a change of license manager for Taconic Golf Club to Leigh-Anne Nicastro.
• OK'd a one-day alcohol license for the Williams College Museum of Art for an event on Feb. 23.
• Recognized the passing of long-time town employee Julie Snow.
• And finalized early in-person voting hours for the March 5 presidential primary and Sept. 3 state primary.