BRIGANTINE — The city will fund more than $200,000 in repairs to the skate park after dozens of residents flooded a City Council meeting last week to convince officials the skate park is needed.
Earlier this month the city’s insurance agency condemned the park, on Bayshore Avenue, due to cracked and sunken surfaces as well as a broken gate.
Before making a decision to either fix the park or replace it with something else, Mayor Andy Simpson wanted to hear from the public to see what they wanted for the space.
While multiple children spoke in front of council at the last meeting to explain why the city should keep the skate park — it keeps them active, provides a place to hang out with friends and keeps them off the couch — adults also tried to convince council members.
Mary Laielli, who lives next to the skate park, loves seeing parents and grandparents interacting with their children and grandchildren who use the park.
“I’m sure a lot of people don’t get to see what I get to see,” she said. “The kids are amazing at the skateboard park. I never hear foul language and they clean up after themselves. It might not be in the best condition, but they make the best of it.”
Former Brigantine resident Cliff Kupper told the board that he helped form the Brigantine Skateboarding Association years ago, and it was heartwarming to see so many residents still backing the skateboarding community.
He added that everything he’s done in his life traces back to his early skateboarding days in Brigantine.
“Brigantine is known for its great beaches and its great surf,” said Kupper, who now lives in Absecon. “But it’s also known for great skateboarding. This is the heart and the soul of the community.”
After hearing from about 10 people in favor of the skate park, Simpson raised his hand and asked the audience if anyone in the room was against the skate park. No one came forward.
“So why don’t we just stop it right here and council will go ahead and find the money and repair the skate park,” he said to an eruption of cheers from the audience.
The park, built about 25 years ago, will cost about $225,000 to fix. All of the asphalt has to be redone and a new fence also has to be installed, Simpson said.
“We’re just a sandbar, so it moves. We’re moving all the time,” he said of the island. “(The skate park) is not a bad design, it’s nothing like that. It’s just the moving of the island.”
As of Tuesday, the city hadn’t looked into funding to fix the park but plans to research different grants.
“It’s the taxpayer’s money that we’re dealing with,” he said Tuesday. “If they want to keep it and continue on, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Repairs include proper site drainage, a new fence with an entrance gate, lights, an ADA-compliant spectator area, posted signage stating skate park rules and hours, and a park attendant, according to the insurance company’s report.
While a definitive timeline hasn’t been set, the mayor hopes to have it repaired by summer 2020. But when it comes to staffing the park, which the insurance company requires, Simpson has concerns.
“That’s a problem,” he said “Because it costs money. It’s not just skateboarding, it’s the cost of doing business.”
The mayor must decide whether to have full-time, part-time, year-round or seasonal attendants and whether to staff the park on days during inclement weather.
He said a part-time attendant would cost the city about $30,000 or more, depending on the use of the park.
“As a political decision, it’s a good decision. As a business decision, it’s a bad decision because of money,” he said of staffing and repairs for the park.
Residents are also asking for an outdoor pickleball court, which would cost the city about $300,000 to build. If the city was not going to repair the skate park, officials discussed possibly replacing it with a pickleball court.
While spending funds on recreation will improve the quality of life for the city’s residents who use those facilities, the mayor would rather see the money go toward an asset that benefits all residents.
“I have to decide if I’m going to spend $300,000 on 300 people for pickleball or $300,000 on paving more roads in Brigantine and everybody uses them,” he said. “It’s a balancing act. It’s $300,000 of taxpayer’s money.”
Simpson is still looking to add a pickleball court, but location and costs are still being discussed.