BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
After lobbying for over a year, Montclair’s Skateboard Club will now have a place to call home. The mayor and council approved allowing the use of two tennis courts at Rand Park for the skaters while the club continues to look for ways to fund a dedicated park.
In an impromptu Feb. 17 vote, the council voted unanimously to remove the nets at the Rand Park tennis courts and to allow the skaters full access, including bringing in elements such as quarter pipes, launch ramps, ledges and flat bars.
The vote was met with cheers from not only the skateboarders who attended the meeting, but the audience at-large as well. Councilman Bob Russo held up a magnet that read: “Montclair needs a skate park,” which the group had designed in their advocacy process.
The skate club was founded last year at Montclair High School, led by junior Antonello Terrano, and now boasts 30 members. After three other failed attempts in the past 15 years to get a skate park, this new generation has been attending council meetings, hosting skating events and meeting with officials to get a dedicated and safe spot. More than 3,300 people have signed a petition started by the high school club and Skate Essex backing a skate park.
The group has been working with Councilwomen Renee Baskerville and Robin Schlager to iron out details after the group said they were tired of being “harassed” out of parks, saying that they had the police called on them and “No Skateboarding” signs were posted in Rand Park.
After feeling that they had been met with a message of hostility over the years, the group was feeling pretty good this week, said the club’s advisor, Jaimie Siwinski, a Skate Essex member.
“They are not skate punks, they are not derelicts like they feel when the police are called or they are harassed,” said Siwinski. He describes a nurturing supportive environment among the members.
When asked when they could expect to move in, acting township manager Tim Stafford said taking down the poles and nets could be done immediately, but setting up an appointment with the Joint Insurance Fund, the town’s municipal insurance provider, could take time. As of Thursday, Stafford said he had reached out to JIF and that “a meeting will be set up with all parties, including township professional staff, in order to expedite the preparation of the two Rand tennis courts for use as a skateboarding area.”
But some are not happy with the decision to take away two of the four tennis courts in their neighborhood.
This past Saturday, Feb. 22, Robert Diamond was at the courts getting in some tennis time on the unusually warm day. He moved to the area because the park offered tennis courts. The courts, which were resurfaced seven years ago, have been marred by the skaters, he said.
“The tennis court surface can not handle skateboarding,” he said. Although he agrees the skaters need a dedicated space, he doesn’t think it should be at the cost of area tennis enthusiasts.
In the future, the group envisions a 12,000-square-foot skateboard park incorporating art into an existing park such as at Erie, Rand or Nishuane parks, all of which are being considered by town officials as possible hosts, Siwinski said.
Costs could run $45 to $65 per square foot to build an average skateboard park, which would run the town between approximately $540,000 and $780,000. Siwinski said there is money to be found through grants with the Tony Hawk Foundation and even the Green Acres fund.