WINDHAM — The skateboard park in Griffin Park has been closed since mid-September, but that hasn’t stopped people from breaking in and creating all sorts of havoc for local police and recreation officials.
After a lengthy debate during Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting, the board voted unanimously to close the park for good, though the question of whether the town would one day open another skate park in town or sell off the equipment has yet to be determined.
All agreed, however, that the park should be dismantled as soon as possible to avoid potential vandalism.
While local skateboarders had hoped the park would reopen some day, others were fearful for the safety of local children, many of whom had been spotted skating without helmets.
Recreation Director Cheryl Haas said the destructive behavior demonstrated by many of the park’s users also led to the Recreation Committee’s Sept. 17 vote to shut the park’s doors temporarily.
“There was the bad language, the rude behavior, the people urinating in the park and throwing their trash around,” Haas told the board.
On Sept. 24, selectmen unanimously agreed the park’s closure would be temporary and enlisted a group of skate park supporters to create an action plan addressing the problems. That plan was supposed to be presented within 30 days of the date the park would have opened for the season, but that didn’t happen, Haas said.
“At this time, we still feel the park should remain closed,” Haas said this week.
Haas said she did have a chance to speak with Police Chief Gerald Lewis and Windham High School senior David Hutchings, one of the park’s committee members, earlier this month, though a committee meeting with a full quorum never materialized.
“It was just the three of us sharing ideas,” Haas said.
Hutchings suggested the Recreation Department stop enforcing a rule requiring skateboarders to wear helmets and said the installation of surveillance cameras would help monitor illegal activity, which raised further questions about how to pay for cameras and monitoring the footage, Haas noted.
“The Recreation Committee hasn’t changed its mind. We think it should stay closed,” she said. “I don’t think eliminating the helmet rule will make people stop urinating where they shouldn’t be urinating.”
Selectman Kathleen DiFruscia, who serves as Recreation Committee liaison, agreed.
“Once again, people are not complying with the rules. I don’t think we should reward people for not following the rules by doing away with the rules. That’s not giving the right message to our young people,” she said.
Police Chief Gerald Lewis said the main problem is “the rules just continue being broken.”
“We go there over and over and over again. Now we have the issue of people climbing over the fence, climbing under the fence. Something has to be done,” said Lewis. “A big part of it is nonresidents not respecting our rules and our facilities.”
Hutchings said his recent meeting with Lewis and Haas was “eye opening” though he stuck by his belief that eliminating the helmet requirement would make things a lot easier for the local police force.
“I do think its kind of silly to remove rules because people don’t follow them, but there isn’t a single other park in New England that still uses police enforcement for the helmet rule,” he said.
Hutchings also said a public fundraiser at the park could help pay for security cameras.
Peter Ventura, whose son is an avid skateboarder, said he took issue with the park’s closure.
“We’re locking the good kids out, and the kids that are the problem are still climbing the fence,” he said. “They’re probably not even from Windham.”
Ventura said he felt the town’s recreation department should be more proactive in its efforts to keep the park open.
“We need a common goal and it would be a shame to shut it down. I think a lot of people want to see this be successful,” said Ventura.
But Recreation Committee Chairman Dennis Senibaldi said it’s a case of too little, too late.
“We’ve spent almost three years trying to solve the problems there,” Senibaldi said. “For years I said no, no, no, we have to keep working but … when there are 7-year-olds playing soccer next door and you hear some of the language coming from the skate park, you just shake your head.”
One alternative option, Senibaldi said, would be to move the park elsewhere, such as behind the town’s police complex. However, Senibaldi said that option would present its own financial challenges as it would cost $15,000 just to install a concrete pad on the site.”
It could be done, but it presents a question of funding and finances,” he said.
Resident Charlie McMahon, who oversaw the $52,000 project from the beginning, said he was saddened at the thought of the park closing.
“The vast majority of the kids do follow the rules, and we shouldn’t punish the majority for the ill actions of the minority,” he said.