New London, NH
The regional skatepark planned for New London received a shot in the arm on Thursday, when the Kearsarge Regional School Board voted unanimously to authorize its Facilities Committee to negotiate a lease with the Town of New London to bring a skatepark to fruition.
A skatepark was originally requested in 2005, when the Board of Selectmen proposed an ordinance to prohibit skateboarding on town and state roads in New London and limit skateboarding to daylight hours. Parents and children objected to the ordinance, citing the popularity of skateboarding and the need for kids to be able to skateboard as an activity and for transportation. The Board of Selectmen held off on passing the ordinance until further research could be done about the feasibility of a skatepark in New London.
Flash forward to the fall of 2009, when over 25 parents and children called an organizational meeting to gauge interest and feasibility for a skatepark. The group formed a citizens’ Skatepark Committee in the hope that New London would join the more than 30 towns and cities in New Hampshire that have a skatepark. The Skatepark Committee named an Executive Committee of Ernie Tyler, Brian Wicenski and Michael Doheny. The group also formed a Fundraising Committee chaired by Mike Webster and a Site & Design Committee chaired by Jim Wheeler and including a number of school-aged children. Over 75 parents from New London and beyond signed up to receive e-mail updates about the progress of the park.
It is the Site & Design Committee that has been most active over the past few months, identifying the following criteria for the ideal site: size (at least 8500 SF); visibility (easily visible by the general public and law enforcement); security (high visibility would allow law enforcement to provide regular site monitoring); central location (for ease of student access after school -- especially those arriving by school bus -- and to allow skaters to purchase food and beverages nearby and allow their parents to shop locally); and zoning (the ideal site would not require a change of use or zoning variance and would not adversely impact wetlands or conserved property). The Committee ruled out a number of potential sites: New London Inn Common, Little Common (behind Information Booth), Town Sewer Department property on Frothingham Road, Pizza Chef’s lower parking lot, Woodward Park, Colby-Sawyer College, and various locations on the former Middle School property.
The Committee ultimately focused on School District property located directly behind the Country Press and adjacent to the elementary school playground. Currently wooded, the unused property meets all of the criteria identified by the Site & Design Committee.
At its meeting Thursday night, School Board members expressed concerns about operational details such as the hours of use, noise, lighting, vandalism, and the maintenance of the park. While not minimizing these concerns, all involved believe these issues can be addressed in the lease negotiations. The School Board’s overarching concern, however, was that the skatepark be available to all of the children in the District, a concern shared by the members of the Skatepark Committee, which includes many people who do not live in New London.
A skatepark on school property represents the perfect opportunity for the Town and the School District to work together to provide for the children of the community. It is in both of our interests to provide a safe and healthy alternative for the children to play outdoors and engage one another. Commenting on the School Board’s favorable decision, School Board Chairman Dan Wolf said "the School Board looks forward to working on the coming skateboard park to present another opportunity for outdoor recreation for all members of the Kearsarge community."
The Town of New London has played and will continue to play a supporting role in the development of the
skatepark. Because New Hampshire state law (RSA 507:B-11) provides immunity to a "municipality or school district, which without charge permits any person to use a facility operated by the municipality or school district for the purpose of skateboarding,
rollerblading, stunt biking, or rollerskiing," the Town proposes to hold the lease on the School District property. (Thankfully, injury statistics show that skateboarding has fewer reported injuries than bicycle riding, basketball, baseball, or football
Notably, the Town does not expect to have any role in financing the park aside from staff assistance (the Town’s Recreation Director, Chad Denning, developed a skatepark when he was with the City of Aspen Recreation Department). The Skatepark Committee intends to raise privately all funds, including donations in kind, for the construction and maintenance of the park. And now that a site has been identified the Fundraising Committee will start its work in earnest, kicking off with a skatepark logo contest open to all of the students in the School District.
While this is not a done deal, we are all optimistic about the possibilities of providing a park for the community that will allow kids to skateboard safely and provide the Town with an economic boost from visitors.
In response to my inquiries about skateparks in other towns, my counterpart from Pelham wrote: "We have a wiz bang skate park that was built with privately raised funds (behind town hall) from parents tired of their skateboarding kids being called criminals. It’s been a huge hit with minimal vandalism. The kids now pick up their own trash! Recreation has sponsored "X-games" which have drawn contestants from 50 miles away. ... The success has come from treating the kids like adults and telling them this is their park and it will remain maintained and improved so long as they keep it clean with no graffiti or vandalism. They’ve held their end so we’re holding ours."
Jessie Levine, Town
375 Main Street
New London, NH 03257
Phone: 603-526-4821 extension 13