2018-08-24 / Front Page

Skate park committee named

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — More than 18 months after a local middle school student kicked off an effort to bring a skate park to South Portland, the city council has appointed members to an ad hoc committee tasked with seeing that job to completion, giving it another year to select the best possible site.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday, Aug. 21 to a slate of seven committee members, each nominated by a different councilor. Although the skate park project was initiated and championed in its early stages by youngsters – an effort that included submission on March 28, 2017, of a petition with 577 names supporting the idea – the committee itself will be an all-adult affair.

Named to the group were:

 Lucas Brown, youngest member of the committee, a recent high school graduate and active skateboarder, who also works as an after-school counselor for the city (nominated by At-Large Councilor Maxine Beecher).

 Michele Danois of North Richland Street, a retired physical education teacher who is now a school crossing guard (nominated by At-Large Councilor Sue Henderson),

 Jack Gundling of Lincoln Street, a former graphic designer, now a stay-at-home dad, who is an active skater (nominated by District 3 Councilor Eben Rose).

 Cybil Kipp of Pillsbury Street, a pediatric occupational therapist in the Scarborough school system who helped create the playground in DiPietro Park (nominated by District 2 Councilor Kate Lewis).

 Kirsten McWilliams of Elsmere Avenue, a Portland public school teacher and mother to Emmons Whited, the middle schooler who first suggested the need for a skate park in a January 2017 email to the city council and led the subsequent petition effort (nominated by District 1 Councilor Claude Morgan).

 Darrell Rogers of Boysenberry Drive, a cyber security specialist and long-time skateboarder (nominated by Mayor Linda Cohen).

 Jeff Woodbury of Hobart Street, a self employed artist and skateboard enthusiast (nominated by District 5 Councilor Adrian Dowling).

Also serving on the committee will be Lewis, as representative to the full city council, and recreation department operations manager Anthony Johnson, as well as Tom Long of Portland, owner of Long’s Board Shop, located in the shops at Clark’s Pond Parkway.

What the committee lacked, however, was anyone living in the city’s historic Knightville village. That fact drew a stern rebuke from downtown resident Troy Chase.

“Furthermore, three of the nominations are people who have vocally expressed their desire to have that skate park down at Legere Park, which we all know is a source of contention for those of us who live in Knightville.”

Chase said that at a June 18 community meeting held to gauge public interest in a skate park, Johnson and other city officials allegedly championed Legere Park as the best possible location for a skate park.

“They touted it to the degree I thought I was taking a trip to Disneyland,” Chase said. “All the other locations were just mentioned by bullet (points).”

Chase asked the council to delay action and reconsider the list of nominations. But that plea fell on deaf ears.

“I think the opposition to Legere Park has been heard, but I don’t think that is a good reason to be on the committee, just because they are opposed to Legere Park,” said Councilor Henderson.

Although she lives in Knightville, Henderson said she purposely did not pick any of the applicants from there, including Chase.

Other applicants who failed to land a final nomination included Ian Archibald, Paul Cunningham, Rosemarie De Angelis, Margaret Eston, Bret LeBleu and Melanie Wiker.

“Frankly, for me, there was an all-out lobby of people who expressed interest in certain skate park committee appointments because they didn’t want a skate park in Knightville,” Lewis said. “But it didn’t feel like it was because it was constructive, or for a skate park in the community somewhere.

“We are listening to constituents in all of the neighborhoods where this may be proposed,” Lewis said. “I think we want to find the place that is going to be most well-received. And right now, from where I’m sitting, that place is not Knightville. I for one don’t think that is the very best place just because of how many people will hate it there.

Lewis said the only reason Legere Park was featured in Johnson’s June 18 presentation was because a preliminary plan had been submitted, showing how a skate area might fit within the park.

Whited and his friends, in fact, first stumped for Thomas Knight Park as the best location. Then, at an April 5, 2017, council meeting, Whited’s mom, McWilliams, turned in a feasibility plan prepared by Bret LeBleu of Callahan + LeBleu Landscapes, which showed that a skatepark roughly on par with Portland’s would take up about half of Legere Park. LeBleu volunteered to donate his services to the project and it was his concept plan that formed the basis of Johnson’s presentation.

Johnson stressed at the time that he was not advocating for any particular location. Still he did note, as Chase recalled, some attributes of Legere Park that could be key to the success of any skatepark. For one, Johnson said, it is near the Greenbelt Trail and on city bus routes. That’s considered a huge plus given the presumed age-range of the typical skate park aficionado. But more importantly, Knightville is an area of town that is eligible for federal Community Development Block Grant funding, and that’s a gift horse that could ride into town wearing sixfigure saddlebags.

Money will, of course, be a huge hurdle to clear, no matter where the park goes. The website publicskatepark.org, claims most facilities cost between $20 and $50 per square foot to build, with the average project falling closer to $40 per square foot.

An 8,000-square-foot skatepark like the one in Portland has been estimated at $320,000.

The council charge to the committee is to come up with a funding plan, as well as a site design and recommended location, and to work with a selected vendor to shepherd the project to completion, once the full council decides where the park will go.

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