While New Paltz Deputy Mayor Alex Wojcik speaks about the more than 70 volunteers working to raise money to install a “skate garden” at Hasbrouck Park, the people who are most consistently showing up at board meetings to speak about it are not those in favor; several clear voices from among residents on Elting Avenue have emerged to speak for those who don’t believe riding a skateboard near the end of that street is such a good idea. As with the organizers in support, those sounding this note of caution also claim to be speaking for greater numbers of village residents: more than 50 have allegedly signed a petition to encourage other sites be considered. At the June 23 meeting, one member of the public voiced support for the project as conceived and two who see things differently engaged in dialogue with the mayor and other board members about those plans.
Kristin Misik reminisced about the 45-minute drive it took to reach a skating facility as a child, and expressed excitement “for the kids” who would benefit from some kind of venue in New Paltz. However, Misik looks at Hasbrouck Park and sees a facility that’s already poorly maintained and wonders what this new recreational feature might look like after 25 years of neglect. Misik’s evidence includes the bedraggled chain-link fence around ball courts in need of significant surface repair, as well as the condition of the old playground prior to its demolition. That playground “fell into disrepair,” in Misik’s understanding.
Mayor Tim Rogers attempted to correct some of that understanding. When the idea of replacing the playground was first raised a few years ago, the mayor noted how hard public works employees had worked to keep that old facility safe and fun, and announced that it had become clear that even with that active and attentive maintenance that the playground was nearing the end of its useful life. That extensive and public history appears to bolster the mayor’s position that the playground, at least, was not so much neglected as it was long in the tooth. As for the ball courts and fencing around them, Rogers focused not on how they came to their present condition but on the numerous grant applications that have been filed seeking funding to make improvements in that lower part of the park. It appears that the key to securing state funding in New York is as much about persistence as it is need. Moreover, the mayor says that it’s much less costly to maintain a variety of recreational features in one location than to spread them about the community.
Another argument Misik made is that the money would be better spent on connecting water and sewer service to install a bathroom at the park, but Rogers explained why that might not fly. It’s considerably expensive both to build and maintain, the mayor said, and additionally there are no plans to use tax dollars or recreation fees to build the skating venue at all. Portable toilets is the sort of compromise that’s necessary to keep property taxes down, taxes that haven’t been raised since Rogers came into office in 2015. Misik requested that budget projections for maintaining this facility over its useful life be released, if available, prompting Rogers to suggest that officials might explore the model used for the Mill Brook Preserve be considered. For that park, the maintenance is all handled by volunteers who operate within a corporate structure, rather than by those municipal employees who worked to extend the life of the old playground for the sake of the children.
Misik also tried to argue for social justice, saying that there aren’t even any playgrounds north of Main Street. That’s not true; there is a playground at Moriello Park. Rogers touted the fact that it’s free to use anytime the pool isn’t open, but didn’t mention that prior to a fence being installed around it some ten years ago, that playground was free to use throughout the year, not just in the off-hours. Moriello is a joint village and town park that’s managed by town personnel. Misik doesn’t believe that siting this facility there or in front of the adjacent Community Center would “radically change the aesthetic” at those locations. Neither of those are locations where village workers maintain facilities, it was pointed out; Misik countered by asking if there’s been any dialogue with town officials about this idea. Receiving no response to that direct question, Misik concluded that the minds of the mayor and trustees are “fixed.”
New trustee Stana Weisburd explained that it’s also beneficial for families with multiple children to have a variety of recreational opportunities in one location. Weisburd also referenced the several discussions which have already been conducted in public about this skate structure, saying, “All of these things you’ve raised have been addressed. You should look it up.” That position appears to give privilege to those who are aware of an issue in the public discourse earlier in the process, by suggesting that only the people who participate in the initial stages will be heard.
When Misik suggested that Moriello Park not only has the same advantages of consolidation for maintenance purposes, and also opined that it’s a safer location to reach via bicycle, Rogers asked if by that reasoning the ball courts should also be relocated there. Neighbor Misha Harnick called that out as fallacious argument, saying that it’s evidence that elected officials are not listening to these concerns. “You don’t put baseball and swimming” and all recreation in one place, Harnick said, and more than 50 people have already signed a petition asking why this specific recreation must go in this particular place. Harnick was then asked to share the text of this petition, and while there was some resistance at first from some Elting residents, it was read: “We the undersigned urge you to reconsider the installation of a skateboard park on the premises of Hasbrouck Park. Instead, please aim to preserve our only dedicated ‘green space’ in New Paltz village by helping plant more trees, and add to the green space for all to benefit from. Further, we suggest that you consider to build a skateboarding facility elsewhere in the village.”
Harnick suggested building skating at the “pit,” the 2.4 acres of land that no developer has successfully built on despite attempts dating back to the late ‘60s, when it was first sold off from the public rolls. The fact that it’s private property was the reason given for not considering that alternative. Rather than engage in more public conversation, deputy mayor Wojcik suggested that Harnick continue the conversation with a private phone call.
More details about this proposal are now available on the village website and can be found by searching for the term “skate garden.” The 12,500 square feet of space that’s called for will fit into the footprint where the former playground stood, without having to sentence any of the memorial trees to death.