By KATE ALBRIGHT
For Montclair Local
So far, Montclair Township hasn’t set aside funds for a permanent skate park. It hasn’t picked a location for one.
But Mayor Sean Spiller and other officials told those gathered Saturday, May 1 at a “Push for the Park” rally that they’re committed to getting a permanent park in place, even if big questions remain about funding and facilities.
Attendees began the rally at Watchung Plaza, where they made signs, before riding to the temporary park at the Rand Park tennis courts Montclair first opened last summer.
“It’s a journey to get to this point,” Spiller said at the rally. “And it’s a journey to take that next big step. I can tell you, certainly on behalf of everybody sitting here, standing here and all of our other [Township] council colleagues, we are committed to getting a permanent skate park in Montclair.”
He said events like Saturday’s — where skaters gathered alongside other community members and township council members, and where music was organized by the student-run Terry’s Serendipity Cafe — matter.
Jamie Siwinski — Montclair High School skate club adviser and a board member of Skate Essex, which supports skaters throughout the county — said the purpose of the event was “to energize the movement.”
He said the temporary skate park is well-used and popular across the ages. Still, having a temporary park only takes the skateboarding community halfway to its goal, he said.
This attitude was also expressed by high school senior Antonello Terrana, president of the MHS skate club: “If the community continues to advocate, the township will see that we really do need a park. The town just needs to be shown that there is this massive group of skateboarders in Montclair that needs a safe space to skate.”
David Greenbaum is one of those community advocates. He said there have been failed pushes for skate parks over the years, but “It seems that we’ve reached a critical mass today.”
At the microphone at Rand Park, Spiller recalled when high-schooler Antonello Terrano started coming to council meetings two years ago. He said he appreciated the engagement of young community members “fighting for what they believe in and what they want.”
Councilman Peter Yacobellis echoed the importance of being vocal. He views the effort to establish a permanent skate park “as a public private partnership.”
“We [the town government] will come up with dollars for this, but you guys have to show up,” he said.” You have to show up at the council meetings. You have to continue to email us. You have to make us do it.”
Councilwoman Robin Schlager shared her memories of advocating for a skatepark 16 years ago. It started with driving her teenage son to skateparks across New Jersey while he was a student at MHS.
“And what I saw in the other towns was simple, terrific … and I said, ‘Why can’t we do it here in Montclair?’ So we came back, we got a whole group of parents together. We tried really, really hard. Just like Antonello, they were advocates all across town and we never got the skatepark built.”
Yacobellis told the crowd that he fully supports a permanent skatepark, along with bathrooms and a water refill station. He said he thinks a skatepark will increase property values, improve quality of life, and differentiate Montclair from other communities.
Yacobellis told Montclair Local that he sees the project for a permanent park as simpler than it may seem, and recommends bonding it.
The $10,000 Montclair spent to bring sculptures designed by expected Olympian Alexis Sablone to the temporary park this year are great, he said — but a permanent skatepark would cost at least $1 million, and Yacobellis said a “world-class skatepark” would run closer to $2.3 million.
“It’s not much to have a kickass skate park in Montclair, in the region,” he said.
A bond ordinance wouldn’t have to be part of the township’s annual budgeting process — though the township would need to come up with a 5% down payment on it.
Yacobellis would like to see the township’s economic development committee recommend a feasibility study for the site at Rand Park, looking at factors such as parking and lighting requirements, as well as environmental impacts. He said once a project gets going, it could be done in about a year. Yacobellis’ vision for a park at Rand includes highlighting the natural features of the river that runs behind it, public art, and noise barriers such as arborvitae and a graffiti wall.
Schlager said that the location is “still very much an open question” but she hopes to have both the location and funding worked out by next spring.
Schlager said she has thought of Rand Park as an ideal spot, but is mindful of noise complaints that have the Township Council considering cutting back allowed hours at the temporary park.
She likes that Rand Park — part of the Second Ward, which she represents — is centrally located and would not require the town to give up any green space.
Councilman Bob Russo said he’d like to see a prominent spot with a roof, or some other sort of structure. He said it’s important that sounds from the part be muffled. Russo also said he’d be making a donation to the MHS skate club to support the park — he said if 100 people each gave $100, the club could quickly raise $10,000.
Alan Smith lives on Forest Street, the closest house to the skate park, he said. For Smith, hearing the sounds of kids having fun gives him a sense of normalcy and hope, he told the crowd.
“I just hope that people who are complaining are listening and just think twice about what you’re complaining about. Put some earplugs in after 7 [p.m.], if there’s still kids here. But the noise never bothers me,” Smith said. “I just hear it as a sense of something great that’s going on behind my house.”
Yacobellis told the attendees that he heard their displeasure on the park hours getting cut back due to noise complaints. He said he’d recommend a vote scheduled for May 4 be tabled for further discussion.
Jill Kloiber, mother to two skaters, shared the angst some of the children have been expressing, worried the doors will be locked and they won’t have a place to skate. And she expressed her gratitude for the park.
“When you guys voted to give the kids a safe place to skate last February, nobody had any idea what was coming,” Kloiber said. “And when this park opened this past June, it’s been a blessing. In times of uncertainty, these skaters have made new friends. My youngest son is going to sleepaway camp this summer with friends that he’s made here. You come here anytime and you’ll see an 18-year-old kid helping a 5-year-old kid learn how to skate or hyping them up. And it’s just been an incredible atmosphere.”
Summer Dirx, a participant in the Boardroom Skate collective of Montclair girls, called the skatepark “my everything.” Ross Berkowitz, 16, said that the courts are his home. But he worries backlash has increased as the skating community has grown.
“For English class yesterday I had to write about home, and I wrote about courts,” Berkowitz said. “I love the courts. I’ve fought for the courts.”