Tonight, Pittsfield, Massachusetts is holding a public input meeting on an expansion of the city skate park.
The skate park is on the corner of Appleton Avenue and East Street, a busy intersection adjacent to Pittsfield High School. Opened in 2011, it replaced a set of tennis courts after the city decided its existing park in the nearby Pittsfield Common wasn’t up to snuff.
“We were in the throes of redoing the Pittsfield Common on First Street, and that park had in the northeast corner a small skate park which really was not meeting the needs of the users,” said Pittsfield Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath.
“The Common is a great space, but where the skate park was in the Common, it was hidden from plain view from the road, it was kind of in the back part of it where you could get to it from the train tracks and stuff, and it was a place where, you know, some trouble would happen down there," said Bill Whittaker. He's one of the founders of The Garden skate shop, which has been on North Street for 19 years.
“It wasn’t exactly the best place to tell customers and things like that to go to," Whittaker told WAMC. "They’d come in and say, ‘you have a skate park?’ And I’d be like, ‘yeah, just be careful. Watch your stuff.’”
Using a state grant of $150,000 and $50,000 in city capital funds, the new park was built.
“From our perspective, it was a relatively low cost, but it’s has a huge impact in our park systems,” said McGrath.
Whittaker says it serves a diverse set of user needs.
“Some of them like the same types of things, but there’s other people that like jumping more or are into more street-style objects – places you would see us get kicked out of normally, like ledges and stairs, and things like that," he said. "Whereas some kids, maybe more BMX kids, might want something more that they can jump out of – hips and jump lines, things like that.”
“There’s currently a quarter pipe and a bowl and some other elevated features, and this next expansion will look to add some new and interesting features – ground features, ground skate and bike features that we’ve heard so much desired out there,” McGrath told WAMC.
The city of North Adams – 20 miles north– opened its own park in 2017.
“There’s a bit of skate tourism," said Whittaker. "People travel to go to these parks. So we saw – when North Adams’ was built – we saw a lot of the locals going up there. We want to try to get those people back and get more people here, basically, and come downtown. And then they’re going to spend money at other places too, you know what I mean? Dunkin Donuts and all those places – I’m sure their business is going to go up!”
The same firm that devised the North Adams park, Spohn Ranch, will handle Pittsfield’s new expansion design.
McGrath says the city estimates the project’s cost at around $300,000, and that it plans to use federal community development block grants and capital funds to pay for it.
He says the initial construction was always considered just the beginning of the park.
“The first phase only designed and built out a skate park on roughly half of the footprint of the old tennis courts, and there has been a real call from the users to get phase two going and that’s where we are now, so we’re really excited about bringing this forward to the community and having that conversation about what this next phase will look like,” McGrath told WAMC.
“People have been talking about a place for shade, or a place to sit down, where parents or friends – or if you want to just take a break, you can sit down and get out of the sun for a minute," said Whittaker. "There used to be a couple trees that got cut down over this last year, and that’s where alot of people used to hang out to get out of the sun.”
Sean LaPatin, who is 13, was at the park on Tuesday with his BMX bike.
“I just like doing tricks and stuff," he told WAMC. "It’s really fun. I like hanging out with my friends here and helping them learn tricks.”
He’s been up to the park in North Adams, but says he prefers Pittsfield’s.
“I think I like this one better because it actually has a bowl, and I like the bowl, and it’s kind of bigger here,” said LaPatin.
He has his own desires for the next phase of the park.
“I would like to see a pump track and probably, like, this quarter pipe – that would be really fun,” LaPatin told WAMC.
Pittsfield will hold its first public meeting on phase two of the city’s skate park expansion tonight at 6 at the at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center at 330 North Street.