LINWOOD — There was nothing gray about residents’ feelings during a discussion of a skate park in Linwood.
The agenda called for the chairwoman of the Neighborhood Services Committee, Councilwoman June Byrnes, to give the committee's report during the caucus meeting on the planned skate park. The committee has been investigating the feasibility of constructing a skate park for roughly 18 months.
Byrnes served on the Neighborhood Services Committee along with council members Stacy DeDomenicis and Ralph Paolone. It came down to a split vote of the committee, 2-1, to not move forward at this time with plans for a skate park. Paolone voted in favor of the park and Byrnes and DeDomenicis voted against it. The recommendation from the committee was met with split feelings on council.
Byres said during the 18 months that council has talked about a skate park, residents passionate both for and against the park have commented at meetings.
“We have listened to every person,” said Byrnes. “But at this time, I do not think it is fiscally responsible to move forward with plans for a skate park. We were given a cost estimate of roughly $40-$45 a square foot for a skate park. We have other projects in town that need to be addressed, and we have to allocate the city’s funds where they are most needed. We have reached out to other communities that have skate parks to hear what they had to say and took that into consideration. We spoke to our chief of police as well as our captain, and they were not in favor of a skate park in town. They also said that if we did have a skate park, it is their recommendation that it have a 10-foot fence surrounding it and be monitored. A monitor would add to the cost of the park.”
The areas of more need in the city that Byrnes mentioned were municipal grounds and buildings along with sewer maintenance and a new roof on the historical society.
Paolone said he voted in favor of the skate park saying, “Any activity that gets kids off the couch and game controllers out of their hands is a good thing. Not every kid is going to score a goal. This allows kids to have success at something different.”
Council members along with Mayor Richard L. DePamphilis III had a chance to make a comment about a skate park in the city. DePamphilis reminded those on council that the topic of a skate park has come up every few years but the city has never considered moving forward with it.
“For all the reasons presented by the committee, I don’t think the city should move forward with this,” the mayor said. “Just because we say not right now, it does not mean we cannot revisit it down the road.”
Councilman Todd Gordan said he is very cautious to ever spend taxpayer dollars on projects unless they are necessary. Likewise, Councilman Brian Heun said while he understands that a skate park would be a nice addition to the city, it is just not affordable at this time.
Councilman Eric Ford, in a rare dissention among council, was vocal about the committee’s report saying, he has not been presented with enough information to vote on a skate park in Linwood. “I like to make a decision when I have all the answers. I cannot affirm something I have never seen. A skate park would give kids an opportunity to do new things.”
Ford wanted to see plans for the project before he could render his opinion on the committee reports. Byrne questioned why they would spend the city’s funds for a conceptual plan for the project when the recommendation was not to proceed in the first place. Councilman Darren Matik said he would like to see what the cost of the project would be before he can weigh in, adding, “If it’s $450,000, well that is a different story.”
Tina Leonard, a 43-year resident of Linwood, apologized for being late to the conversation about the skate park. She said she was speaking for many of the senior citizens who are living in Linwood who struggle to remain in their homes. Calling the plan for a skate park as an “indulgent request,” she told council members, “The reality is that Linwood residents are struggling to stay in their homes and to maintain those homes. Homes around town are degrading, and we are discussing a skate park? Let’s take care of what is on our fiscal plate first.”
Terry Calvi, a 41-year resident of the city who is not in favor of the skate park said, “That is why parents pay for lessons. I don’t think a skate park for a very specific group of kids justifies the expenditure.”
Resident Larry Lluhlier said he was confused that council assigned a committee to do research on a skate park and then council members questioned the findings of that committee. “That is an insult,” said Lluhlier.
Likewise, resident Jack Versa questioned the dissent along the dais saying, “You went round and round on this thing. You had a committee; they gave you an opinion and you don’t want to listen to them?”
Anthony Mavey is a Mainland student in favor of a skate park. He goes to Ocean City most days to skate and said, “I am not really into sports and I did not have a lot of friends but I met a lot of nice people at the skate park and it would be great to have one here, I think it would be fun.”
A Patcong Avenue resident is a proponent of the skate park spoke at the meeting. The father of two works in Ocean City and skates on his lunch break. He said there are no police concerns at the Ocean City park and that he supports diverse recreation for kids and added that he would like to debunk negative thoughts about a skate park, adding that kids will continue to skate, and the better choice is to have a safe place for them to skate.
According to the report that Byrnes gave, Ocean City’s skate park is well used and has very few problems. Brigantine’s skate park is rarely used by skaters, according to the Brigantine Police Department. Galloway opened a skate park near the police station but has closed it and put basketball courts in its place. Margate looked into a skate park but took no action.
Mike Thomas of Glenn Insurance, Linwood’s coordinator with the NJ Joint Insurance Fund, spoke to council about the liability of a skate park. Thomas said there are 41 towns in the JIF with only seven having skate parks. Of those seven, four are beach communities. He said six other communities were considering skate parks but dropped the plans. According to Thomas, there is no additional cost to the city to cover the skate park itself.
“If there is a claim arising from activity at the park, then the city’s insurance premium would reflect that, but there have not been a lot of claims arising from skate parks,” said the JIF representative.
The skate park discussion is scheduled to be on the agenda again at the next Linwood City Council meeting, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25.