Officials want skate park closed when Pittsfield High School is open

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PITTSFIELD — The School Committee wants the skate park across from Pittsfield High School gated and padlocked when classes are in session — a move likely to draw the wrath of skateboarders and bikers at City Hall next week.

By a 6-0 vote, with Mayor Daniel Bianchi absent, the committee Wednesday night called for the city Park Commission to close the park on school days in the wake of Friday's alleged knifing incident that involved five youths — including some who were PHS students.

One person was treated for a minor injury in the incident, city police said. Two juveniles, one 15 and one 16, were later arrested and charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Park commissioners will discuss the proposed school-day closure of the park at its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall.

The recreational facility at the corner of East Street and Appleton Avenue isn't on the Pittsfield campus, but because it lies within a school zone, administrators feel compelled to keep an eye on the park, especially when students are let out for their lunch break.

Friday's attack occurred around the noon hour, police said.

"It' a constant distraction for our students during the day," said Principal Matthew Bishop.

"This is a huge building to monitor, said School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon, "and we can't have [the staff] taking time to monitor [the skate park too]."

But skate park supporters and users say the school day closing unfairly impacts the youths and young adults who aren't the troublemakers.

"People are jumping to conclusions that [the skate park] encourages bad behavior and it doesn't," said Bill Whittaker, co-owner of The Garden, a North Street skate and bike shop. "In fact the opposite is true.

"It's a public park and not just kids are using it," he added.

Whittaker expects the skateboard and bike community will pack the Park Commission meeting, which may move to the City Council chambers to accommodate a likely large crowd.

Sixteen-year-old Brian Hillard, of Pittsfield, plans to speak out against the closure on Tuesday night.

"I understand the concern .. but it's not fair to the general public who use the park and are not in school," he said during a break from skateboarding at the park late Thursday afternoon.

If the commission heeds the School Committee's recommendation, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said Pittsfield Public Schools would take responsibility for closing the park when PHS classes begin at 7:30 a.m. and re-open it after the 2:30 p.m. dismissal.

Friday's assault was the most serious incident at the park since it opened four years ago this month. Some of the youths involved in the fight fled the park and entered PHS, prompting school officials to call for a brief shelter in place order.

School Committee member Daniel Elias has found the skate park "problematic" for school officials since it opened.

"I never favored the current location," he said. "I drive by and find those of ages who should be in school."

Bishop noted the truants aren't all skipping classes in Pittsfield.

"We've had issues of students from other school districts, suspended and they come there," he said.

Matt Reardon, of Pittsfield, says the problem goes beyond school hours. An employee with a local landscaping business, Reardon has noticed marijuana use and vandalism, almost always by those hanging out that aren't true skate park users.

"There definitely is a lot of people who shouldn't be here — it isn't well managed," he said.

The city's original skateboard and bike park was removed from The Common on First Street when that municipal recreational area was undergoing a five-year, $4.7 million overhaul, which that was officially completed last December.

In 2011, a combination of $215,000 in city and state funds paid for converting the little-used tennis courts at the corner of Appleton and East into a new, large and more challenging skate park. The fenced-in facility is open from dawn to dusk, as are Pittsfield's other unlit recreational areas.

Despite concern over the skate park's location, the school board and McCandless still view it as an asset for the community.

"My son is off from school this semester and he goes there as a stress releaser," said committee member Pamela Farron.

"It's pretty nice to see teenagers on BMX bikes and youngsters on scooters with their parents [watching] in lawn chairs," McCandless added.

Contact Dick Lindsay 413-496-6233.


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