Pittsfield skate park supporters say closing should not be an option

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PITTSFIELD — Security cameras, beefed-up supervision and eliminating Pittsfield High School's open-campus policy trumps a gate and padlock on the skate park during the school day.

Skateboarders, bike riders and their supporters at Tuesday night's Park Commission meeting backed those alternatives to improve policing of the park across from PHS, the scene of a knifing incident two weeks ago during the students' lunch break, when they are allowed to leave the building.

"To close this park during school hours is ridiculous," said John Fitzgerald, a retired PHS and Taconic High School teacher.

The attack involving some PHS students prompted the School Committee last Wednesday to recommend that the commission close the park between 7:15 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The commissioners took the request under advisement and indicted a vote could come at the January meeting.

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.

School Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless echoed the school board's sentiment that the closure isn't "anti-skater, anti-athlete," but a necessary step to avoid trouble during the 180-day school year.

"It's good for PHS students, good for the neighborhood and good for the city," McCandless said.

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

If the commission heeds the School Committee's recommendation, McCandless said the School Department would be responsible for closing the park when PHS classes begin and reopening it after dismissal.

School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon viewed the closing as a temporary measure and agreed with those who spoke in favor of installing security cameras and added adult supervision at the park. Currently, Pittsfield High staff primarily monitor the park during the school day, time better spent keeping the school itself secure, school officials have said.

PHS Principal Matthew Bishop doubts electronic eyes were a long-term solution.

"Security cameras are wonderful, but for looking back at what happened, not preventing what happened," he said.

Bishop also dismissed the notion that allowing students to leave campus for their 30-minute lunch break is part of the problem.

Tammy Ives was among those who disagreed saying, "Why are kids allowed to leave school in the first place; this isn't college."

"If safety of the students is an issue, then keep them in school," added Nanci Taylor.

The Dec. 4 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.

College students and adults using the skate park during the weekday say they are being unfairly punished for those causing trouble at the park — nearly all with no reason to be there as they aren't skateboarding or bike riding.

Furthermore, the school-day closure would result in a dangerous mad-rush to the park when it reopens at 2:30 p.m., according to AJ Roy IV.

"It will be like a Black Friday sale," 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.

Contact Dick Lindsay 413-496-6233.


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