Pittsfield Park Commission explores options for policing skate park, especially during school days

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PITTSFIELD — City and school officials and skate park advocates hope to reach an understanding that could keep the facility open when Pittsfield High School is in session.

The stakeholders gathered last week to explore solutions to better monitor the park, keep out those who have no intention to skateboard or bike ride, and take better care of the playground so it can coexist in the shadow of the golden-domed PHS on East Street.

"We're very hopeful to come to a good compromise; we're not in the business to give anybody a hard time," said Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless.

"My main goal is for [the skate park] to stay open for those who use it during the school day," said Councilor at large Peter White.

McCandless, White, Pittsfield School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon, PHS Principal Matthew Bishop, James McGrath, the city's open space and natural resource program manager and Bill Whittaker, co-owner of The Garden, a North Street skate and bike shop, met on Friday in the wake of the school board asking the city to shut the park between 7:15 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

The formal request to the Parks Commission last month was prompted by a knifing incident in early December during the PHS student lunch break, when they are allowed to leave the building.

Since several PHS students were involved in the attack at the park across from the high school, the committee sought a padlock on the skate park gate to prevent future altercations when classes are in session.

Skate park users and supporters balked at the notion during the commission's Dec. 15 meeting, citing how many adults use the park during the day, and saying that just a few individuals hanging out at the park are to blame for causing trouble.

On Tuesday, the commission received a recap of Friday's meeting from McGrath, who outlined several potential ways to police the park 24/7, not just during school days:

• Issuing trespass orders against those troublemakers tied to incidents at the park.

• Stepped up police patrols between noon and 2:30 p.m., the peak time of when issues arise at the park on school days.

• Installation of security cameras

• Having the city and park users take better care of the facility and freshen it up in advance of spring when heavier use resumes.

City and school officials plan further discussions prior to the commission's February meeting, with an alternate plan to a school day closure expected by April.

The intent of the closure all along was to work out a long-term solution during the winter months, according to Yon.

"It's perfect timing to get a plan in place," she said. "The park isn't the problem; it's been the [park's] proximity to the school."

The park commissioners seemed amenable to the proposed measures, especially the video monitoring.

"Once people know they are on camera, you'd think they would know not to act up," said Dr. John Herman.

If installed, the cameras would likely be on around-the-clock.

"We've had other issues after hours," noted commissioner Tony De Martino.

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 during lunch break. The Dec. 4 attack occurred around the noon hour, police said.

McCandless said the incident spurred PHS students to take matters into their own hands.

"We have very few kids hanging out at the skate park," he said. "Students are working together to deal with the issue themselves."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233.


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