A rendering of the eight skateable sculptures for Rand Park.
COURTESY SKATE ESSEX

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Next week, Montclair could take another step toward creating a permanent skate park at Rand Park.

The Township Council plans to vote on a resolution Jan. 18 that would initiate an analysis of insurance costs associated with the creation of the park. The resolution would also clear the way for Skate Essex, which for three years has been lobbying for a permanent park, and U.S. Olympian Alexis Sablone to begin installing skateable sculptures she designed. 

But some tennis enthusiasts are not happy with the move or possible future plans for the park, as changes could mean losing some or all of the four tennis courts currently there.

The township first opened up its temporary skate park at Rand Park in the summer of 2020, in one of the tennis courts. Then in July of last year, the Township Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution supporting a permanent skate park at Rand Park. For years, local skaters have lobbied for a skate park and officials have been mostly supportive, but the location remained an open question. 

(KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

One tennis player called into the Jan. 4 Township Council meeting to say that although she is in favor of a skate park, she and other players don’t feel it should come at the cost of courts at Rand. She asked the council to look at other open spaces for the skate park, rather than take away courts that are already overused by tennis teams and residents.

“Tennis is a sport for all ages, while you rarely see a senior citizen skating. It seems unfair to benefit this age-limited segment of the population,” she said.

Neither the resolution passed in July nor the new one sets aside township funds for the park, but they do set a path to allow the township and volunteer group Skate Essex, which has been maintaining the temporary park, to seek grant funding. In July, Skate Essex became a 501(c)3 organization and has raised $40,000 to date. 

The new resolution, to be presented by Township Council members Peter Yacobellis and Robin Schlager Jan. 18, would first direct the township manager to seek an analysis of insurance costs and implications of the skate park with the township’s insurance agent, Garden State Municipal Joint Insurance Fund. It would also direct the township to include construction and maintenance of a skate park in future plans for development of new or repurposed recreational facilities in Montclair, and in capital budget planning.

The township manager and staff, such as recreation director Michele Cammarata, would collaborate with Skate Essex and/or other parties to begin working through financing, development, operation and maintenance planning for a permanent skate park at Rand Park. 

According to the resolution, the plan is contingent on a favorable outcome from the insurance review.

At that point, two courts would close to tennis — the one already used by skaters, and another adjacent to it. Skate Essex and Sablone would move forward with their plans to install sculptures on one court at a time, while skaters use the remaining court.

Builders have given Skate Essex preliminary cost estimates of $1.5 to $3 million for a complete skate park.

The $40,000 raised so far will cover the creation and placement of eight of Sablone’s skateable sculptures, Paul King of Skate Essex told Montclair Local.

The next steps for Rand Park overall could include the permanent skate park, other recreational facilities (such as an additional basketball court and pickleball court), multi-use space, added green space, a community garden, benches, shade and restrooms, Yacobellis said. But it’s not yet clear which if any tennis facilities would remain if those steps were taken.

“Based on our research so far, it looks as if most of the funding can be through grants and donations. We’re taxpayers too. If we can fund a skate park with little or no funding from the township, that would be ideal,” King said.

Skateboarder Evan Eden told Montclair Local that although “a skate park is a park and should be treated equally to our other Montclair parks with baseball fields, soccer fields, basketball courts, etc,” he pointed to the funding of a skateboard park in Jersey City that cost very few local taxpayer dollars there. The skate park cost nearly $900,000, but $500,000 came from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund and $350,000 from a local developer. Jersey City paid just $12,500 from local tax dollars.

“We believe a similar funding model exists for Montclair,” King said, adding that the group is expecting a grant award from Tony Hawk’s foundation, The Skatepark Project.

Sablone and contractors 5th Pocket Skateparks are ready to begin construction of the sculptures, which is estimated to take three weeks. The plan is to begin in March, following the township’s approval of the resolution, King said. Once the skateable sculptures are in place, Eden and King believe the park will put “Montclair on the map” as the only skate park in the U.S. to have Sablone’s sculptures, and fundraising will increase. Sablone, who attended a graduate program in architecture at MIT, has designed a skateable art public space in Sweden.

Even if the township closes the two tennis courts at Rand as planned, there would still be 14 township courts and 10 county courts within Montclair, Yacobellis said. There are various private facilities around Montclair, as well, he said, including  Bradford Tennis and Pool, Montclair Golf Club and Glen Ridge Country Club.

Yacobellis moved to have the resolution, which was listed as a discussion-only item on the Township Council’s Jan. 4 meeting agenda, voted on that night. But fellow Township Council members David Cummings, Bill Hurlock and Lori Price Abrams voiced concerns, saying the matter needed more discussion and consideration, especially for tennis enthusiasts, and Yacobellis pulled the motion.

Schlager agreed, but said she did so reluctantly.

Cummings suggested getting input from department heads such as the recreation department, but Schlager said that was not council members’ purview, and that such discussions should occur with the township manager. Under Montclair’s form of government, most municipal employees report directly to the manager, and cannot be directed by the council or mayor.

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