Woonsocket skate park on edge

Woonsocket skate park on edge

Advocates say city facility, opened last year, needs more space, equipment

WOONSOCKET – For Susan Kirwan, skating is a labor of love.

The city resident and former street skater opened Craft skate and BMX shop in 2013 to fill what she saw as a void in services for the city’s skaters and BMX riders, including her two sons. Since then, the shop has become a hub for the city’s skating community, with skaters of all ages dropping by to work on their equipment or say hello on their way to the city skate park.

The skate park, opened last August on land close to Kirwan’s Hamlet Avenue shop, should have been a source of pride for the skating community, she said. Skaters had lobbied the city for several years to open the park, and were thrilled when it found a home near the Woonsocket Middle School.

The result, though, was not what they expected. Small and lacking in new equipment, the park has put Kirwan and other advocates in an odd spot, grateful to have a place, but disappointed the city did not invest more in its young skaters, particularly with improvements going on at other city parks.

“I’m happy to see that they put something here. The city of Woonsocket owes it to do something better, though,” said Joshua Bomosee, a 20-year-old city resident who frequents the park.

The process began in 2014, when Kirwan said she began speaking with members of the administration and City Council about opening a park. At the time, her shop was located in Market Square, and skaters were eager for a place to call their own. A skate park had previously existed in Cass Park, but was torn down after problems with vandalism and crime.

“I just kept going to City Hall. I didn’t always talk, I was just there as a member of our community,” she said.

In 2015, the effort got a publicity boost when Danny Marszalkowski, local skater and former Woonsocket High School student, hosted “Get Up, Get Out and Ride,” an event to promote skating and physical fitness that he organized as his Eagle Scout service project. Later that year, the Woonsocket Parks and Recreation Department gave the group permission to set up temporary equipment at River Island Park, but revoked it after a group of young people – which Kirwan and younger skaters say wasn’t associated with their community – began hanging around the pop-up skate park, apparently drinking and making trouble.

Despite the setback, the incident drew attention to the need for a proper skate park, and in fall of 2015, Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and Public Works Director Steven D’Agostino convened a skate park committee to determine the location and design of the new park. The committee, which included Kirwan and Marszalkowski, among other advocates, recommended a 15,000-square-foot concrete skate park in an open, accessible location to prevent vandalism and allow supervision. The following summer, at the second annual “Get Up, Get Out and Ride” event, Baldelli-Hunt announced an area behind Woonsocket Middle School as the location of the new Woonsocket Skate Park.

“I was so happy, I couldn’t believe it,” said Kirwan.

After that, however, things moved slowly. The skating community waited nearly a year for the city to break ground on the new park, only to find out it would be a smaller 10,000-square-foot asphalt space with prefabricated equipment donated from a former park at the Blackstone Valley Boys & Girls Club, a far cry from the built-in concrete park they had envisioned. Still, skaters were excited when the park opened last August. Kirwan, meanwhile, remained hopeful the city would invest funds to expand the park based on comments she said city representatives made to her at the groundbreaking that the donated equipment was only a temporary solution.

“It’s like building a quarter of a baseball park. You might be able to toss the ball around a little bit, but you can’t play a full game,” she explained.

According to Kirwan, a fully outfitted park would have benefits beyond the skating community. Despite the public image of skaters as young teens, many skaters, she said, are between the ages of 18 and 28 and would bring visitors and business from surrounding communities. The improvements would help her business as well. Without a full-sized skate park to draw in customers, she said she may be forced to close Craft, collapsing the tight-knit skating community that’s formed around the shop.

“I’ve honestly felt like I’m walking on a tightrope,” she said. “I don’t want to push too hard, but I think not pushing hard enough is why I’m in this limbo.”

During the past year, Kirwan has lobbied city officials to invest the $68,000 for new equipment according to a design drawn up by a Connecticut-based equipment dealer, the same one who made the ramps donated by the Boys & Girls Club. She has spoken with various members of the administration and asked City Council members to amend the 2019 budget to include funds for the skate park, but said she has received little in the way of concrete answers.

“It’s pretty much become clear to me that they had no plans to provide additional funds,” said Kirwan.

The Department of Public Works did not respond to a request for comment about the skate park, but City Council President Daniel Gendron said that while the council has no plans to amend the 2019 budget to include funds for the skate park, they plan to revisit the issue after the budget process is complete and may be able to provide some funds through grants or the Department of Public Works.

“There are line items where we think we can possibly appropriate some money after the budget is passed,” he said.

In the latest setback, city officials temporarily shut down the park last month due to concerns with some of the equipment – Kirwan’s own personal equipment she had placed there to supplement the seven pieces donated by the Boys & Girls Club. Signs at the park currently read “Skate park closed under renovations,” but Kirwan said the signs are only for liability purposes and city officials have not stopped skaters from using the park since she removed her equipment.

Meanwhile, she and other members of the skating community continue to lobby for improvements at the park, but said what began four years ago as a rallying effort to build one community’s dream park has become an exercise in frustration and city politics. Kirwan said she is still holding out hope the city might decide to invest in the park, but as another budget year draws to a close without dedicated funds, that possibility is seeming less and less likely, and the skaters, she said, are the ones who get hurt in the end.

“I wanted to show these kids that you could build something from nothing,” she said. “Now, I feel like I’ve been made into a political pawn over here and I’m kind of upset.”

Dominic Chute, of Woonsocket, catches some air on a jump at the skate park that opened last August. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)
“Closed under renovation” signs are currently in place at the Woonsocket skate park. While park advocates say the signs are simply for liability purposes and skaters continue to use the park, advocates want the city to invest additional funds and equipment in the long sought-after space.

Comments

I am aware for the need of space for our children to ride and have fun, however, you want the city to spend $68,000 to expand a skate park? Our city council and mayor can't approve a budget, city teachers buy their own supplies and books to teach our children with, and our taxes are becoming outrageous. Sorry, but I can't approve spending that kind of money for this.

It is great that this skate park has been opened, and they say they need more space and equipment. But what seriously needs to be addressed by users, is what I see a lack of in the picture....helmet safety, wrist guards, etc, the entire use of proper attire against serious injuries. Will there be safety signs posted as to ride at own risk, if choosing to be so improperly attired? Surely you cannot expect the city to be responsible....your choice, your dime.