2015-03-27 / Front Page

Rolling to a new home

Kennebunk skatepark is a step closer to Parsons Field location
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Although Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder is not due to deliver final plans for Kennebunk’s new skateboard park until the April 14 selectmen’s meeting, the board took an early vote March 9 to reiterate its support for both the project’s budget and location.

However, while all members of the board support rebuilding the park, the vote was not unanimous, as selectmen Richard Morin and John Kotsonis split off from the majority, citing a technicality that, they said, should send the question back to voters.

In light turnout at the polls in June 2013, Kennebunk residents voted 394-213 to OK borrowing $1.28 million to complete various road, sidewalk and park projects. Listed among the items to be funded was “skateboard park improvements,” for which selectmen had earmarked $100,000 of the bond money.

The exact wording of the 2013 warrant — “skateboard park improvements” — is what became an issue for Morin and Kotsonis, albeit somewhat belatedly.

Osterrieder said he reviewed 10 town properties as potential homes for a new park, eventually narrowing the list down to two — the existing skatepark on Factory Pasture Lane, or a new site in Parsons Field, located downtown off of Park Street.

Osterrieder stumped for the Parsons Field site, in part because the original park can’t be expanded much beyond its 2,400-square-foot border without encroaching on wetlands. The proposal for Parsons Field is 7,100 square feet.

Selectmen gave their assent to that move last September, asking that final designs be delivered to them by April. But many residents living in the Parsons Field neighborhood say they missed the memo on that decision. Several said at the March 9 selectmen’s meeting they were unaware a skateboard park would soon be rolling into the neighborhood until invited by Osterrieder to a Feb. 26 informational meeting for abutters.

A number of objections to the new park were raised at that time, among them parking, noise, stormwater drainage, town liability, and behavioral problems presumed to predominate among the skateboarding set. But the real bugaboo, the one that threatened to scuttle the park repatriation, was the language of the 2013 warrant article.

“In its current form it [the skatepark] is kind of a dump,” said Shiloh Schulte,” who lives near Parsons Field. “It needs to be fixed. The kids in this town deserve better. But what we voted for were skatepark improvements.

“If I tell someone I’m doing home improvements and then I go build a new one with that money, that’s quite a different project,” said Schulte. “We can have this be a great addition to the town without changing the fundamental use of the other parks.”

Selectman Kotsonis agreed, claiming to have been told early on in the process by Town Manager Barry Tibbetts that the bond money was to refurbish the existing park, not move it to a new location.

Tibbetts said he “probably did” say as much, but pointed out that lots of things were said by lots of people before plans began to take shape.

Still, Tibbetts said he checked with Town Attorney William Dale to find out how much flexibility selectmen had in interpreting the 2013 warrant article. As it turns out, they have a lot.

“He said it’s really up to the board how to interpret that,” Tibbetts said.

For Selectman David Spofford, it was an easy call to make. If the board decided the best way to improve the park was to build a new one in a new location, so be it, he said. Although that ruling led to an exchange as quick as it was testy.

“On the warrant it says skateboard park improvements. It does not say existing skateboard park improvements.” Spofford said.

“What other skateboard park is there?” asked Kotsonis.

“I’m just saying,” Spofford shot back.

“Well, I’m just saying,” said Kotsonis, staking his claim to the same bit of rhetorical ground.

“I really would feel more comfortable if we had some clarification,” said Morin. “I’d like to not send $100,000 on a wing and a prayer and a misunderstanding. I think it should go back to the voters.”

But Morin’s peers felt differently, voting 5-2 to again support the Parsons Field location

— with an exact layout still to be determined — and a project limit of $100,000.

However, many residents who questioned the validity of the site move also expressed doubt that a 7,100-square-foot skatepark could be built for the given spending cap. A similarly-sized skatepark in Portland cost $325,000 to build. Meanwhile, Sandy Noble, whose Kennebunkport company, Who Skates, built Kennebunk’s old park and expects to tackle the new one, said she hoped to get the cost down to $20 per square foot.

“That’s $90,000 just for concrete,” said Lionel Menard, a member of the RSU 21 school board. “We’re talking about way over budget before we start. We need to go back to the voters and say this is a new project.”

And while that view mirrored one voiced by two selectmen, the majority sided with Selectman Christopher Cluff.

“The citizens have elected us to make these decisions,” he said. “What precedent are we going to set if we’re just going to put this back on the voters? If every decision we need to back goes back on the voters, what are we sitting here for?”

Among park abutters who did not address the cost or authorization issues exclusively, the split was about 50/50 between those who wanted the park rebuilt near the center of town — many of whom likened its potential to the new Waterhouse Center — and those who feared their neighborhood would get crowded out by rowdy teens.

“I’m a neighbor, one of the closest neighbors, and I do want it,” said Dane Street resident John Costin. “At Little League season it gets crazy noisy, and I love it.

“When we built the Waterhouse Center we didn’t site it down on Factory Pasture Lane or on an existing skating pond. We put in on Main Street and, by gum, people use it. I want the same thing for the skatepark. Let’s get it used by the maximum number of people.”

“How are we going to get the park you all have planned for 100K when we have drainage issues and parking issues, and it’s in a historic area?” asked Winter Street resident Amy McGarry “Getting to the other end of Winter Street is problematic now. I can’t imagine bringing in even more people.”

As the audience filed out of the meeting room, leaving selectmen to run through the balance of their agenda unobserved, Osterrieder reminded everyone that the skate park will still need to undergo public site plan and historic preservation reviews.

“This has been a completely open process,” said Cluff. “But we’re still baking the cake.”

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