An embattled skate park project moved forward last week when the Board of Alders approved an amendment to change the proposal’s trustee from the Yale Schwarzman Center to the city of New Haven.
The skate park project was originally proposed by New Haven native J. Joseph ’19 and Steve Roberts, a fellow member of the local skateboarding community. They secured the necessary funding for the project from the Schwarzman Center, the New Haven Parks Department and the state’s Could Be Fund. The project has been under the purview of the Schwarzman Center since the fall of 2018.
In recent months, the project has met opposition from some Dixwell residents who have expressed their concern for the size of the skate park, its impact on park visitors and the need to prioritize other park improvements.
“Since the city is the receiver of this gift, it just made sense to give the money to the Engineering Department, so they can serve as project manager over the actual project,” Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison said in an interview with the News. “One of the big things about us receiving this gift of the skate park in our community park goes along with the fact that this year will be the first time skateboarding is one of the Olympic sports.”
The project was originally proposed by Joseph with the support of Garth Ross, the executive director of the Schwarzman Center. The two men, along with Bobby Pourier ’20, went to a multi-day skateboarding celebration in Los Angeles in the fall of 2018. After enlisting Roberts, Joseph secured funding for the project and presented it to Dixwell community members in May of 2019 with the support of Morrison. After another contested community meeting, the proposal went before the Parks Commission on June 19 of last year, where it was approved unanimously.
However, community members had not been made aware of the meeting according to multiple residents, so no people in opposition were there to voice their concerns. The Board of Alders unanimously approved the proposal in August to accept money for the project. Community members held a number of additional community meetings about the plan in the fall, but the change in trusteeship marks the first public action regarding the project since August.
Now that the city of New Haven is the trustee, its Engineering and Parks Departments will take the lead on the project — which has a target completion date in July — in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics, the first Olympics in which skateboarding will be contested.
Due to the amendment recently approved by the Alders, the Engineering Department now has access to the project’s $100,000 budget. The Could Be Fund has pledged $50,000, and another $25,000 will come from the Parks Department’s capital funds. The Schwarzman Center will still provide the other $25,000, despite handing over trusteeship.
“From my perspective, the transfer of trusteeship to the City of New Haven is an outgrowth of a shared desire for collaboration between all stakeholders with the City of New Haven at the helm,” Ross said in an email to the News.
The Engineering and Parks departments closed their window for proposals from contractors for the project yesterday. The firm that is ultimately chosen will carry out the designing and building of the project. According to city engineer Giovanni Zinn, the departments have specified what sorts of features they want in the skate park.
“We’re tweaking the design to make it more responsive to community concerns, especially around noise,” Zinn told the News in an interview. “We’re looking to try to create a design that really is skate park-focused and look to be responsive to the community concerns.”
Looking forward, the Parks Commission must vote upon the final location of the skate park within Scantlebury at an upcoming meeting. The city website has not yet been updated with the Commission’s meeting schedule for 2020. Otherwise, Parks and Engineering are planning a series of public meetings between the eventual contractor and community members to discuss the design of the skate park, according to Joseph. In addition, the Parks Department plans to make other improvements to the park, according to Acting Director William Carone.
Roxanne Condon, a Dixwell resident and Friends of Scantlebury Park member, told the News that she is concerned that the skate park “is out of scale” with the rest of Scantlebury Park and that she was worried about the “mixture of young children and skateboarders” who will use the park. She noted that young families with young kids use the park every day.
Earlier in the process, some neighbors, including Condon, criticized the skate park as an intrusion of Yale money and students. Others focused on the increased noise and traffic that the skate park would cause.
Morrison was first elected as the Ward 22 Alder in 2011.
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