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Meeting gathers ideas for skatepark design

Park moves forward, despite continued opposition, with skateboarder/architect’s input

BRATTLEBORO—Despite continued opposition from neighbors, the Brattleboro Recreation & Parks Department is moving forward on plans to site a skatepark within the Crowell Lot on Western Avenue.

Last Thursday, about 50 people ranging from town officials to young skateboarders came to the Gibson-Aiken Center to offer their input in what the park should be.

The nearly two-hour session was led by Mike McIntyre, a skateboard architect from Action Sport Design/Stantec that’s based in San Diego and Boston, who outlined the design principles for the Crowell skatepark, and listened to suggestions from the audience.

Recreation and Parks Director Carol Lolatte said McIntyre brought a unique set of skills to the process.

“He’s a licensed landscape architect and a former sponsored skateboarder and BMX racer,” she said, adding that McIntyre designed more than 150 public skateparks and BMX courses around the world.

And Lolatte made it clear from the outset of the meeting that the discussion was to focus on design concepts for the skatepark, and not on the site of the skatepark.

Only a couple of people opposed to the skatepark were in attendance. Nearly everyone else who was there came not just to support the park, but to help shape the final stage of a project that has been more than a decade in the making.

After several unsuccessful attempts to site a skatepark, the town School Board in June 2011 transfered control of a portion of the Crowell Lot to the town and the Recreation & Parks Department for the construction of a skatepark. That lease set a deadline of five years for completion.

The town Development Review Board (DRB) issued a permit for a proposed 12,000 square-foot-skatepark in July 2011, which was then appealed to the state Environmental Court. The court ultimately upheld the DRB permit in February of this year, but reduced the size of the park to 11,000-square-feet.

That finally set the stage for putting out an RFP (request for proposal) for a skatepark designer, which led to McIntyre’s arrival in Brattleboro.

McIntyre said his goal was to “create a park you can skate in” and not to build a skatepark at the expense of other amenities.

“We’re thinking about a concept that even when no one is riding, it will be aesthetically pleasing,” he said.

The riders at the meeting, who ranged in age from teens to thirty-somethings, advocated for “bowls” rather than ramps, to promote more “flow.” The general consensus was for a park that was, in McIntyre’s words, 60 percent street and 40 percent flow.

Spencer Crispe, a longtime advocate for the park, said he liked McIntyre’s aesthetic concepts, but he wanted to make sure that as much of the space as possible that is now allotted for the skatepark is used for riders.

“I want to make maximum use of the site for skating,” he said.

Adam Hubbard, a member of the town Skatepark Advisory Committee, said that any design is restricted by the skatepark’s limited footprint, and by considerations such as preserving the old-growth trees on the site and creating a buffer zone for abutters.

“But I want to make it clear that the skatepark takes up only 2.5 percent of the entire property,” Hubbard said.

Brattleboro fundraising legend

McIntyre said he was impressed with the job that Brattleboro Area Skatepark Is Coming (BASIC) has done with fundraising for the park. More than $100,000 of the estimated $300,000 cost has been raised so far.

“You guys have done an amazing job,” he said. “Even out in California, everyone knows about Brattleboro. I can’t believe you got people to give that much money for a skatepark.”

That’s because, he said, the persistent negative stereotypes about skateboarders usually drive donors away.

He said other cities and towns that have had successful fund drives have couched their skatepark efforts in other ways, such as touting it as a way to fight childhood obesity.

“Any story can be put toward a project,” said McIntyre. “If you can come up with anything more than just getting people into a park, money starts flowing.”

Fric Spruyt, a Town Meeting Member and an opponent of the skatepark, was the only attendee at the meeting who pressed Lolatte and McIntyre about why it was being built at the Crowell Lot.

“This whole process is jumping the gun,” he said.

Lolatte reiterated that the School Board, the Selectboard, and the DRB all have signed off on the project as it now stands, and all would have to be consulted if there were major changes.

The next step is another meeting, set for Oct. 25 at 6 p.m., at the Gibson-Aiken Center. A site visit is scheduled for 5 p.m. that evening, where residents can meet with McIntyre and get another look at the plans.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #172 (Wednesday, October 3, 2012).

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