2016-09-16 / Front Page

Skatepark debate rolls back around

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Almost 15 months after Kennebunk voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan to move the town’s skateboard park to Parsons Field, selectmen may finally take a stand on what to do with the current structure on Factory Pasture Lane.

The agenda for Tuesday night’s board meeting calls for the creation of an “ad-hoc committee to review and recommend a design firm for the Board’s review and approval.”

According to Town Manager Barry Tibbets, “The town has received two inquiries from skatepark companies that offer design/build services,” since selectmen last addressed the issue at a September 22, 2015, meeting.

Tuesday’s meeting took place after the deadline for this week’s Post.

In his memo to selectmen, Tibbetts did not name the two firms to submit proposals. However, he did suggest the board conduct a final vote at its Oct. 11 meeting on creating the skatepark committee, after determining its membership make-up on Tuesday.

Once established, the committee would recommend which of the two vendors selectmen should select.

“The firm would then plan, design, and construct a skate park at the Factory Pasture Lane location,” Tibbetts wrote.

At this point, it’s been more than three years since funding was approved to overhaul the town’s skateboard park, built in 1993.

In June 2013, Kennebunk residents voted 394- 213 to borrow $1.28 million for various road, sidewalk and park projects. Listed among the items was “skateboard park improvements,” for which selectmen earmarked $100,000 of the bond money.

After deciding adjacent wetlands made expanding the existing park problematic, at best, selectmen reviewed 10 alternate locations during the summer and fall of 2014, eventually settling on Parsons Field as the best site, and tasked Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder to report back with a plan by the spring of 2015.

Before that happened, however, some downtown businesses preemptively killed one concept, which was to put the new park between their stores and the Parsons Field teen center.

Then, when plans surfaced that put the new skatepark in the park itself, directly adjacent to the ball fields, local residents rose up to oppose that design.

Chief among them was Park Street resident Shiloh Schulte, who organized a citizens’ petition he said was meant to impress upon selectmen that they were on the wrong side of public sentiment.

The question, successfully placed on the June 2015 ballot — “Do you favor the town allocating green space in Parsons Field to construct a new skateboard park rather than improving the current skateboard park?” — fell 2,766-1,196.

Schulte, who subsequently decided to also throw his hat into the selectmen’s race, rode that wave of public opinion into office, placing third among six candidates for three open seats.

That fall, when the board got around to taking up the issue of what to do about the skatepark, all eyes turned to Schulte.

“I think it’s pretty clear where we stand right now,” he said. “I think the default position is we’re looing at renovating the existing park. That said, I think it would be perfectly legitimate to go forward and look at new sites and this point.”

However, the “fundamental point,” Schulte said, is that if a new, new location is chosen, final approval of that site should be put to voters.

But not all selectmen shared that view.

“We’ll never get anything done if we have to put it out to voters every single time we make a decision,” Selectman Christopher Cluff said. “They [the voters] gave us $100,000 to do something, now we just need to go out and do it.”

Cluff said he remained convinced the skatepark needs to be relocated from Factory Pasture Lane, where it is undersized and, because it was purposely tucked there out of public view, poorly policed.

Still, while he agreed with Schulte that only “two or three” of the original 10 alternative sites were ever truly “viable,” Cluff said there is no need to launch a new study from scratch, as some board members suggested.

However, Selectman Richard Morin, now the board chairman, said at the time some form of public survey, if not a full-blown referendum, may yet be required.

Because of how the 2015 referendum question was worded, as an either/or proposition, the “overwhelming message,” Morin said, was that voters wanted the $100,000 spent on the current skatepark, where it is.

“If there’s concern that’s not what the intent was, then we should go back to the voters to get clarity,” he said.

But in the end, selectmen decided that, with the construction season largely over, they were “not under the gun” to make a decision.

Cluff suggested the board return to the topic in the spring when crafting the fiscal year 2017 municipal budget. One option, he said, might be to forego any park updates and simply give the money back to the taxpayers. However, Tibbetts said that because the $100,000 was already incorporated into a “bonding instrument,” doing so would not be a simple proposition.

“Well, just because that gave us money doesn’t mean we have to spend it,” Cluff said.

And that was the last selectmen had to say on the issue, as budget season came and went this past spring with no further debate on what to do with the skate park, or the $100,000 approved for its rehab in 2013.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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