Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Two years after council rejected Shakespeare Park as the location for a new skate park, the idea is moving ahead as originally envisioned by city staff and the facility’s users.
Bruce Whitaker has helped organize a public campaign to have the existing skate park on the Cooper site replaced with an inclusive park in the green space across the street that would accommodate skateboarders, BMX riders, rollerbladers and other active youth of all ages. He envisions it with seating so people can come and watch the park being used.
He said the park meets all the criteria for a good location: It would be highly visible to the public, have space for expansion, and would create a park that is open to a diversity of activities.
Shakespeare Park, at the corner of Downie and Shakespeare streets, currently has tennis courts, a playground, and horse shoe pits.
Perhaps most importantly, Whitaker said the location would deliver certainty that a new park can proceed.
“It’s time to move forward on this and revitalize Shakespeare Park,” he said, adding it will be a “gem” in the city once complete.
The motion to move the skate park to Shakespeare Park passed Monday evening while council was sitting as the community services committee by a vote of 8-3. Whitaker admitted to being a little disappointed.
“We wanted a unanimous vote in support of the youth,” he told the Gazette in an interview after the council meeting. “We want to understand (the three councillors’) objections so that we can respond to them in the build.”
Coun. Tom Clifford said Shakespeare Park is too small to build a park of the proper size.
“It was the wrong place in 2013 and it’s the wrong place in 2015,” he said.
Coun. Kerry McManus said she would not support rebuilding the skate park when its users have to cross the street to access the YMCA facilities, since none would be built at the park. She too suggested there would be plenty of space on the Cooper site.
But Coun. Kathy Vassilakos said putting the park on the Cooper site would be sending young people the wrong message.
“To me, it feels like we’re trying to find a place to put these kids where it doesn’t bother anyone. And that’s exactly the wrong thing (we should be doing),” she added.
Shakespeare Street resident Amber Verhoeve said when she moved there four years ago she understood that she would have to deal with the tennis courts and train tracks, but that she bought the house primarily because of the green space across the street.
“I didn’t purchase my house with the understanding a large concrete block would be built outside my window,” she said.
Area resident Brad Horton said Shakespeare Park is simply too small and too close to the residential buildings, and advised the skate park’s supporters to just wait a little longer for a new facility on the Cooper site.
“Stratford does an excellent job in their facilities; but in this case they need time. If you guys are patient you’ll get something worthwhile.”
But Coun. Frank Mark said moving the skate park to Shakespeare Park is a “no brainer,” noting it was the preferred option of staff for good reason and would create a “truly multi-use” park space.
The city started looking into a new skate park in 2012 after being approached by a group of skateboarders who said the existing facility next to the YMCA is worn down, unsafe, and too isolated. Community Services staff investigated multiple locations throughout the city before endorsing Shakespeare Park.
But the new location was eventually rejected by council, which heard complaints from residents in the area about noise and litter. A motion was passed to rebuild the skate park on the Cooper site when it’s redeveloped.
But two years later, the park’s users are still waiting.
“Youth don’t deserve to be part of the uncertainty of the Cooper site,” Whitaker said. “A period of two to three years may seem to adults as a short time but to youth it is an eternity.”
The city has earmarked $120,000 towards a new skate park, which it estimates will get a 2,500 square foot facility. If the new location is given final consent by council the next step will be to put out a request for design proposals. Supporters also plan to fundraise so a more expansive park can be built.