by Jennifer Katz
Skateboarding has a new edge in Philadelphia. This isn’t news to the many residents who have closely followed the city’s skater movement from its ousting at Love park to its creation of a Schuylkill River Skatepark. But for some Hillers what will be news is that the same newly minted nonprofit responsible for that park, Franklin’s Paine, wants to build a skatepark at the Water Tower Recreation Center at Hartwell Lane and Ardleigh Street.
The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation held a meeting with neighbors and representatives of Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund, a nonprofit skateboarding advocacy group, at the Water Tower last week to gauge public interest and to hear potential concerns.
The small group of teenagers who currently skate in a concrete lot below the tennis courts between Hartwell Lane and Winston Road, a handful of neighbors, several members of Franklin Paine’s board and city staff discussed the feasibility of building a skatepark in part of the space. Water Tower director Joe Brogan said the other most often mentioned use is a dog park.
Brogan said he is constantly getting requests from kids for a skatepark, and the city is interested in providing a safe place for them to be outdoors and active.
Josh Nims, co-founder of Franklin’s Paine and the current operations manager for the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, started his group in 2000 after skateboarders were banned from Love Park at 15th Street and JFK Boulevard in Center City. The goal is to have a network of spaces so that kids will not have to travel more than half a mile to find a skatepark.
The group has been instrumental in the development and fundraising for the area’s small cohort of new and coming skateparks, including Paine’s Park along the banks of the Schulkill River by the art museum, Pop’s Park in Kensington, Ambler’s skatepark, FDR skatepark at FDR Park and the McCreesh Playground in Southwest Philadelphia.
Dona Odell, who has lived on Winston Road across from the rec center for almost 20 years, said she would not support a skatepark behind the tennis courts unless there is supervision, funding to maintain the park and traffic controls.
In making her argument, Odell said that of all the programs at the Water Tower, the only youths she had trouble with have been the skaters.
“The only time I’ve been ‘F U’d’ has been by the kids who skate there,” she said.
Odell suggested one possible solution to her concerns: move the skatepark off of the Winston Road side of the center’s property.
“What I need before I do everything in my power to see that it is not built is to have you put it behind the building,” she said.
Odell suggested that the appropriate space to be used for the skatepark was between the recreation center and the baseball fields behind the homes on the 8200 block of Ardleigh Street.
Chestnut Hill resident and skateboarder Zach Schwemler apologized to Odell for “anyone who has cursed at you.” Schwemler and another skater at the meeting, Vince Dunne, , said they know upwards of 20 people who currently use the space to skate and said they believed none of them would be so disrespectful.
Odell said she has seen a renaissance of graffiti, vulgarity and noise in recent years and attributed it to a lack of supervision.
Jan LeSeur, an Ardleigh Street resident, said he didn’t think the neighbors were opposed to the idea but would like to see restrictions.
“I’ve not heard that we don’t want this at all,” he said. “We want limits.”
Nims suggested proper planning and design is often enough of a deterrent to abuse and bad behavior. At Pop’s, Nims said, the park is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. There a community member who lives across the street who locks up every night. There is a 10-foot fence and the park is not lit.
“It is more important to have tight hours and ownership by the kids who would use it,” said Nims in response to the idea of requiring an adult on-site to supervise.
Christopher Plant, of Mt. Airy, is on the board of Paine’s Park.
“This is about the creation of spaces that aren’t antagonistic,” he said. “No other sport requires supervision. If the kids have ownership, they will police themselves.”
Nancy Peter, a Mt. Airy resident and “skateboard mom,” said she felt Franklin’s Paine was a group that “can be trusted” from what she knows of them.
Odell seemed to agree with much of the praise aimed at Franklin’s Paine, but she was not dissuaded from her concerns.
“I have no quibble with what you are doing. The designs are wonderful, and I’m sure you are a caring organization,” she said. “But at night you go home.”
Nims said he would ideally use the entire space behind the tennis courts to create a skatepark with green spaces to buffer it from the closest neighbors on Winston Road. Rogan, however, said he has heard from many dog walkers who would like to have a dog park in that space.
Franklin’s Paine is going to work on conceptual designs with input from the skaters and the neighbors. The designs will be brought to the community sometime early next year, the date and time to be announced by the city.
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