Opinions sought on skate park


After more than two years debating whether to open a park for skateboarding and in-line skating, Manchester Town Council wants to hear the community's opinion on the issue at its regular meeting next month.

Supporters of the park hope town residents will back their plans.

In the past few months, council members have seemed more receptive to the idea of a park, and discussion has shifted to where the town might build it.

The most-discussed sites are Westside Memorial Park, north of Manchester Road (Route 27), and on one of three tennis courts at Christmas Tree Park.

Dr. Robert T. Scott, a local orthodontist and owner of Manchester Manor independent-living community off Route 27, became involved early this year because children were skateboarding on ramps for the disabled at the 3-year-old facility.

"So I tried to turn a negative into a positive," he said.

He linked forces with Michael G. Zimmer, who had tried to get a park in the area several years ago after one of his teen-age children was ticketed for skateboarding in town.

"I was motivated - I was infuriated. We knew other towns were doing" parks for skateboarders, Zimmer said. But nothing happened, and he gave up, until about a year ago when the idea resurfaced.

Zimmer and Scott have helped raise $4,000 with raffles and donations, and by selling pretzels, candy and funnel cakes for the Manchester Skate Park fund, to prove interest exists.

But during recent council meetings, Scott had expressed frustration with the lack of action, and asked whether he should give the money back.

Last week, the issue reappeared. "Thanks for putting it on the agenda again," he told the council last week, adding his hope "that we could move in the direction of doing something. I had gotten to the point of wondering whether this would ever happen."

Scott said he's sending fliers home with his patients, urging people to attend the council meeting that begins at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10. Speakers will be heard at 8 p.m.

"They seem pretty close to doing it, but they can't seem to make up their minds," he said of the council. "I think if they're going to go by community support, it's going to happen."

"We will be asking people to turn out at the meeting," said Zimmer. "We hope to get them to show up. We would be very, very disappointed and heartbroken if we saw they still didn't decide."

Scott favors a park at the tennis court because it is far from Manchester Manor. Also, he said, families could use Christmas Tree Park. That area is level, paved and, at 115 by 53 feet, the right size, he said. Westside would need excavation, asphalt and water-drainage control, which would cost another $20,000 to $30,000, he said.

Town Manager Philip L. Arbaugh said Manchester has $3,000 in its budget for a skate park, estimated to cost $40,000 to $50,000.

"There is county money approved," he said, and more money is available to the town through Program Open Space. Combining these sources and the funds raised by Scott and Zimmer, about $40,000 is available.

Last week, the park idea got a boost from two Westminster officials, Councilman Kevin Dayhoff and Ronald J. Schroers, the city's parks and recreation supervisor, who attended the council meeting.

"The biggest thing you need is a level piece of ground," said Schroers, who suggested that Manchester try using part of the tennis courts as a kind of pilot "to see if it works for your town. If it doesn't work, you're only out for the ramps, and you still have the tennis courts." Howard County has a mobile skate park, he noted.

"Ask the kids about the design," he suggested. "Get the kids involved in helping to make decisions about their park."

It should be called a skate park to include both skateboarders and in-line skaters, said Schroers, a Manchester native, who offered his file of information ranging from legal forms and public funding sources to a ramp dealer's catalog.

Westminster, one of the first Maryland municipalities to open a skate park, easily obtained insurance for its 100-by-60-foot area, which can accommodate up to 100 skaters.

"These kids get there when it opens at 9," he said. "They never get in any trouble." Schroers said he and the town police and public works staff keep an eye on the park, which charges a fee and requires users to wear safety gear. "In the last two years, we had two broken bones - and they were the first two days."

"I'll be calling you, Ron," said Councilman Brooks Rugemer, who expressed support for the park but said, "It's still new to us."

Dayhoff, of Westminster acknowledged "some nervous Nellie moments" before Westminster's park opened.

"We were always telling kids they couldn't skateboard in town," he said. It has been "a win-win situation. Municipalities should be in the business of families. It's been a good dynamic for our kids and our town."

"You will have one regret with a skate park: That you didn't do it a long time ago."

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