Town approves skating park project at decontaminated Cole Ave. location

For parents like Clare Morrison, the completion of plans for a skateboard park off of Cole Avenue represents the culmination of nearly three years of work toward developing a safe, fun place for local teens to skateboard, rollerblade and hang out.

The park, sponsored jointly by the town of Williamstown and the Massachusetts Electric Company, will be completed this summer. The town will provide the land adjacent to the little league fields off Cole Avenue and Stetson Road,

Massachusetts Electric will provide the approximately $75,000 required to build the park, and local skaters will provide the design.

Banned from College property because of liability concerns, skaters literally took to the streets, sidewalks, curbs, rails and stairs of Williamstown.

“The kids had no place to skate,” Morrison said.

“Building this park is something the townspeople have been attempting for years,” said Evan Couzo ’05, who is helping design the park. “There is a serious lack of activities for local kids and a skate park is an excellent idea. Skaters are always going to find a place to skate.”

A small group of parents and a couple dozen youths came together to explore options for the creation of a park. An initial venture off of Main Street (Rt. 2) “looked promising at first, but the surrounding neighborhood was not thrilled with the prospect,” Morrison said.

The Massachusetts Electric Company, which was responsible for clean-up of some town-owned land it had polluted, and Tim Kaiser of the Williamstown highway department, who was aware of the need for a skate park, then proposed the Cole Avenue site.

“Mass Electric had a site to remediate, on town property, and there happened to be a citizens’ movement in town to build a park. It fit,” Kaiser said.

The contamination of the land now slated to become the park began in the early 1900s, when companies and businesses later consolidated into Massachusetts Electric polluted the soil in the area with toxic industrial waste, according to Michael Lotti, an environmental engineer from the company. Normal waste-management practices of the day propagated through a “chain of liability” requiring the electric company to clean up the soil

“This wasn’t some kind of typical tanker-iceberg incident. No real negligence was involved, just some misinformation a long, long time ago,” Lotti said.

Most of the contamination has since been eliminated by removing the offensive soil, but small traces remain in the ground. “There’s really no danger in what’s left – it’s not a real hazard to people or to ground water supplies,” Lotti said.

But any potential danger from the area must still be neutralized, and rather than complete the expensive and labor-intensive process of excavating the polluted soil, Massachusetts Electric chose to work with the town by capping the soil with cement and providing funding to turn the area into a skate park for local youth.

“I think it’s going to be a great project for us and for the town, providing something that’s much needed for area kids,” Lotti said.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Morrison said. “It’s going to cost them less to build the park and it’s going to be a big boost for the town and the kids.”

Area teens are excited about the park, which they are helping to design. Skaters like Morrison’s son are working with engineers from Guntlow & Associates and Williams students Couzo and Paul Sonenthal ’04 to put together a “street style” course.

While the design has changed over the past few months, Couzo said making the park accessible to all was a top priority. The street-style design will feature stairs, rails, boxes and quarter pipes, with other features (such as a half-pipe) added if the budget permits.

Construction is slated to begin in the spring after the financial details are finalized, and project organizers hope to open the park this summer. Morrison said she hopes the park will be expanded over the years with revenue from clinics and competitions, combined with donations from residents (which have already begun to flow in).

Couzo said the College is contributing nothing to the project, “which is absurd. I just think it’s a shame that the College won’t contribute to something kids need,” he said.