Skaters protest shortened park hours, plan meeting with officials
Published 6:46 pm, Tuesday, October 26, 2010
The Parks and Recreation Commission, faced with pressure from the skateboarding community over reduced hours at the park this fall and closure during the upcoming winter months, has made room on its Wednesday agenda to discuss the matter further.
The skate park will now only be open, under supervision, Monday through Friday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m, and on Saturday and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Parks and Recreation Department Director Gerry Lombardo said. Come Nov. 29, it will be off-limits entirely until spring.
Lombardo said the commission made the changes because some skaters were not following the rules -- such as not wearing helmets -- and bicyclists were using the facility even though the rules do not permit them.
Skater and parent Duncan Nevard will make a presentation to the Parks and Recreation Commission at the Wednesday meeting.
"The new hours lock out over 40 percent of the regular users of the skate park," said Nevard. "Not opening until 11 a.m. on wekeends shuts out the little kids and the old guys."
Nevard said 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. is when older, more experienced skaters use the park. These skaters are greater in number, faster and more aggressive, making it nearly impossible for a younger child to be at the park to try to build skills, he said.
"We just spent $250,000 building it, and now it's only going to be open 27 hours a week?" he said.
He and others have looked into the reason for the reduced hours and planned winter closure, "and as far as we can tell, the town's insurance carrier only requires spot checks for helmets," Nevard said.
Nevard and others believe the skate park should be a "use at your own risk" park, as is every other park in town.
Lou Heumann, mother of two teenage skaters, said there's no supervision at the Jennings Beach Sandcastle Playground across the street from the skate park, for example.
Nevard said there's no one making sure his 16-month-old doesn't fall and hit his head at the playground.
First Selectman Ken Flatto told the Fairfield Citizen Tuesday afternoon he believes the hours should be increased.
"The intent was to have an open park used by the public the way any park is used by the public," Flatto said. "Information from other communities and our insurance provider indicated there is not any bigger risk from skateboarders skating than there is with other sports, like lacrosse, football and soccer that take place on town property.
"Studies have shown that there are more concussions and injuries occurring in other sports, so, based on that, it seems foolish to me to limit the access to a public park so severely."
Lombardo, like Flatto, said he is in favor of increased hours, and had recommended the Parks and Recreation leave the hours as is.
While Lombardo supports changing the skating schedule back to the original hours -- sunrise to sundown -- he said skateboarders who refuse to wear their helmets led the commission to reduce hours.
"If they wore their helmets, it wouldn't be an issue," he said.
Flatto said supervision doesn't put the town in a better spot. Fairfield has "recreational immunity," unless it can be proven negligent, he said.
If someone sustains an injury when they are not wearing a helmet when the sign says to do so, the town could not be proven negligent, Flatto said.
Flatto said he has been by the skate park six times in the past month, and observed that 80 to 90 percent of the skaters are wearing helmets.
But Lombardo, based on what he has seen, thought a majority of the skaters were not wearing helmets. He said percentages vary depending on the day.
Even so, Flatto said he believes the skaters "deserve to have this park used whenever possible without shutting the park down in an unreasonable fashion."
"In any sport there's always a risk of injury," he said.
Nevard said it's much more dangerous to have the children skating on the Post Road, for example, than at the skate park.
"You can't get hit by a car in a skate park," he said.
The Wednesday Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, begins at 7 p.m. at the Board of Education administrative building, 501 Kings Highway East.