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Yet another potential new site for skatepark

Selectboard approves investigation into site atop Living Memorial Park

BRATTLEBORO—Town departments and members of Brattleboro Area Skatepark is Coming (BASIC) committee are set to consider yet another location for a town skatepark.

Next area up for a feasibility study is land near the Upper Field of Living Memorial Park.

The Selectboard approved a feasibility process and potential development of land near the Kiwanis picnic shelter and outdoor theater at the park’s crown during its regular board meeting on Jan 20.

Approval for developing the land came after reports from town staff saying the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) “strongly discouraged” a previous location in the park the board approved last fall.

Last September, the board approved investigating space in the park’s lower section — the Theresa Brungardt Senior Area.

The land’s proximity to Whetstone Brook and its flood corridor, however, caused the DEC concern.

According to Planning Director Rod Francis and Recreation & Parks Director Carol Lolatte, the town departments chose to gather feedback from the DEC before conducting a full and costly feasibility study.

Francis and Lolatte said the three DEC staff they met with felt protecting a skatepark in the Theresa Brungardt Senior Area from flooding and erosion was not a good use of taxpayers’ money.

The DEC believed the area too prone to flooding and erosion as the Whetstone, like most moving water, would shift its bank.

Francis said the state believed protecting a piece of public infrastructure like a skatepark that close to the water’s edge would take more investment than simply reinforcing the river’s banks as previously expected.

A siting committee identified upper Memorial Park as one of five potential sites during a study conducted last summer.

After years of arguing over siting the park at the Crowell Lot on Western Avenue, the board authorized a siting committee to vet locations for a skatepark in late 2013.

The committee worked throughout the winter and into the spring of 2014 starting with a list of 41 potential sites. That list was whittled to 10 sites and finally the top five: the Elm Street Lot, the Crowell Lot, and three areas at Living Memorial Park.

The board and members of the public toured the five top sites last August.

It’s polite to describe the tour as becoming heated. The tour diverted at one point from voices raised in vigorous debate to being a hair’s breadth away from fisticuffs.

Still the board approved the Theresa Brungardt Senior Area and the feasibility work began.

On Jan. 20, many people spoke in favor of siting a skatepark atop Living Memorial Park.

One woman said that siting the skatepark at Living Memorial Park provides families with facilities and a range of kids’ activities. An older child can enjoy the skatepark while the mom and younger children are at the pool, she said.

Another person suggested that, along with constructing the skatepark, the town should add amenities such as swings so families can play in the same area.

Jeff Clark, BASIC’s chairman, said the committee has discussed the DEC’s conclusions but has not prepared an official response.

In Clark’s personal opinion, upper Memorial Park is a good location — more favorable than the siting committee’s top choice of the Elm Street lot.

Francis and Lolatte added that Elm Street has its own challenges, potential flooding and land collapse among them: “A risk of cavitation,” Francis said.

After some laughter and comments from the audience and board, Francis added, “It’s some version of a great sucking sound.”

Regarding flooding, the Elm Street lot raises stability questions, he said. As flood waters recede, the land under the parking lot could collapse.

Lolatte added a word of caution in siting a skatepark near the Upper Field. The area is used year-round, she said, adding that whatever is constructed will have to take other activities, such as skiing, into account.

“We need a skatepark,” she said. “There are challenges to finding the right spot in the right neighborhood so it’s a good fit for Brattleboro.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #290 (Wednesday, January 28, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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