Town to build skateboard park

A Williamstown initiative to build skateboarding parks may be near realization. The Williamstown Zoning Board approved (4-1) the installation of a skate park in Linear Park, near the town tennis courts just off Main Street on Oct. 18.

The Board of Selectmen, however, withheld their approval until a more concrete proposal could be put forth. The board requested specific plans for the best methods of monitoring and financing the park.

The initiative was introduced to give skateboarders, who have been skating illegally around town and on College property, a safe location to skate.

The leader behind the initiative is Clare Morrison, a resident of Williamstown and secretary of the physical education office of the College. She explained that Williamstown offers few forms of recreation for teenagers.

“The town needs to count the youth as part of the community, and as part of the community they have needs too,” she said.

Morrison envisions the park as a place to skate, but also notes the need for the location to be accessible to teens riding their bikes. The park would be open from nine a.m. until dusk from April through October. She hopes that the creation of the park will prevent teens from skateboarding down rails and in other unsafe locations, including areas on the College campus.

Currently, skateboarders in Williamstown have no location in which to practice because the town has limited open recreational land for skaters to use. For years, skateboarders have been skating on Spring Street and the College’s campus, but skateboarding is now prohibited at both of these locations.

Some town members have suggested asking the College for land. While no formal proposition has been made to the College, when asked about the town initiative Helen Ouellette, vice president for administration, said, “We’re having enough trouble finding space for all our existing College needs that I doubt we’d have land to donate for this.”

Morrison hopes the College will support the project financially. The preliminary estimated cost of the project is $75,000, all of which will be funded by individual donations.

Campus security expressed support for the park, explaining that it would be easier to regulate skateboarding on campus if teens had an alternate location to skateboard. Security has struggled to keep skateboarders off the campus for years. Youths living within 50 to 60 miles of campus have traveled here to skateboard on the College property.

Skateboarders typically skate in areas off Spring Street, such as the Science Quad and Berkshire Quad. In particular, security faced increased complaints of skateboarders on campus with the construction of the ramps in front of Lasell Gym.

While the problems skateboarders pose for the campus, such as causing minor damage to railings and walls, are notlarge ones, the College must still consider other elements, such as the potential liability if skateboarders injure themselves or pedestrians. Only 12 injuries have been reported since 1989, but the majority of the injuries go unreported.

David Boyer, associate director of Security, expressed the College’s main concern against skateboarding, which is the congregating nature of the skateboarders. “Any time you have youths hanging around you have potential for problems, and we (security) are not in the position to entertain or baby-sit the youth of Berkshire County.”

Campus policy prohibits skateboarding. A few years ago, security created a three-strike procedure to further curtail campus skateboarding.

For first-time offenders, campus security files a report of the offense but only gives the skateboarder a warning. The next time security stops the skateboarder, security confiscates the youth’s board and notifies his or her parents. If the skateboarder is stopped by security again, he or she is issued a trespass notice and is removed from College premises. The policy has curbed skateboarding on campus since its implementation, and under the policy security has only written up six skateboarders. The creation of a skateboard park would further limit the problem.

The plan, however, is not without opposition. Although the Zoning Board has issued its approval, the location of the planned park has sparked some controversy. Colonial Village residents, whose land would abut the planned park, are strongly opposed to the Linear Park site because they are concerned that the park would disrupt their quiet environment.

David Levine, the Zoning Board member who opposed the site, echoed the villagers’ sentiments. He added that the isolation of the park would cause a delay in help if teens were injured. He also expressed concern that teens would ride their bike on Route 2 to travel to the park.

Other potential sites for the park include Williamstown Elementary School, the drinking well off of Stetson Road and Broad Brook Playground.

The construction of the skate park could begin as early as next spring.