Middlebury nixes skate park plan citing tepid support, high cost

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury officials have put the brakes on planning for a new, local skate park in wake of the loss of $30,000 in seed money and what they said has been a lack of interest exhibited by prospective users of such a facility.

Middlebury recreation officials held two community meetings earlier this fall on preliminary plans to build a skate park on a 100-foot-long-by-50-foot-wide space off Mary Hogan Drive, just west of the basketball and tennis courts in the town’s recreation park. Supporters envisioned a poured concrete surface with moguls, inclines, declines and pyramids, along with a series of railings that are popular among skateboard enthusiasts.

Adding momentum to the project was a $30,000 pledge from the Union Lodge of Middlebury of the Masons. Lodge Secretary Jim Ross had recommended the pledge after hearing the case of a local skateboarder going through court diversion as a result of skating on town property. The youth lamented the lack of a park for skateboard enthusiasts.

With the $30,000 pledge in the offing, Middlebury Parks and Recreation Director Terri Arnold rallied supporters to design a skate park and commit to various tasks to help bring it to fruition. Arnold also reached out to world-renowned skateboarder Tony Hawk’s foundation for grant support.

But unfortunately, the estimated price tag of the project mushroomed to around $180,000 and a combined total of only a dozen people attended the two skatepark planning meetings.

This prompted the Union Lodge to unanimously withdraw its pledge.

“The officers and members of Union Lodge express our sincere appreciation of the dedicated work you have done on trying to build interest and planning for the skate park,” Jim Selleck, master of Union Lodge, wrote in a recent letter to Arnold. “But after reflecting on the financial gap between what we could contribute and your cost projections and the lack of youth interest, we were unanimous in withdrawing our offer.”

But Selleck added the Lodge has appointed a committee to do some brainstorming on other activities or projects that would meet the group’s objective of having a positive impact on youth in the community.

Loss of the Lodge seed money, the lofty price tag of the project and the lack of support has compelled Arnold to at least suspend planning for a skate park.

“As the saying goes, there comes a time when you have to fish or cut bait,” Arnold said.

She noted drainage was a big reason for the surging cost estimate for the skate park.

“It’s a soggy location,” Arnold said. Ultimately, engineering, drainage and site work would have eaten up the $30,000 seed money very quickly, according to Arnold.

Not wanting to lose the Lodge’s financial assistance, Arnold made an alternative proposal to the group: How about a picnic pavilion in the recreation park, adjacent to the tennis courts? She reasoned the new amenity would dovetail well with the two outdoor cooking grills recently installed at that location.

Selleck said Lodge members are concerned a picnic pavilion might be vulnerable to vandalism and could become a magnet for “undesirable” activity at night.

“We are looking (to support) something that would provide a positive image for the Lodge and help youth,” Selleck said.

In the meantime, Arnold is concerned about how the lack of a skate park in the town’s recreation park might affect Middlebury’s new teen center location. Addison Central Teens next year will move out of the lower level of the Middlebury municipal building and into the warming hut at the recreation park. The municipal building will be demolished to make way for new town offices at 77 Main St.

“The skate park was an attractive piece” for the new teen center spot, Arnold said.

While the skate park plan is at least dormant for now, Arnold is part of a group exploring other recreation amenities for the town. Among the current ideas is an adventure park that could be located on five to six acres of rustic, wooded land. Arnold and the Middlebury Area Land Trust have reached out to a company that could build and manage the park — which could include such features as zip lines, obstacles and cargo nets. The company would hire people to run the facility and return some of the admission fees to the community.

Of course a lot of details would have to be settled before such a plan proceeds, not the least of which is the location.

“I don’t know where (this idea) will go, but I am excited about it,” Arnold said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802.388.4944
Fax: 802.388.3100