On Sept. 17, after a 45-minute public hearing on the troublesome, 10-year-old skateboard park, the Belleville City Council voted unanimously to close the park as soon as practical.
The reasons stated were safety for the children and liability for the city.
DPW Director Keith Boc said he would solicit prices to get the concrete removed, with the goal of getting it all cleared out and planted with grass.
A group of six children and their parents from Victoria Commons neighborhood was in the audience to try to convince the council to keep the park in operation.
They were disappointed at the council’s decision, but asked if the city would keep the park useable as long as possible and not lock it up.
Boc replied they can’t lock it up because the fence keeps getting pulled down.
Mayor Kerreen Conley said the seasons are changing and the park probably will be open into the winter and then not be re-opened next spring.
The skatepark was built with funds from Wayne County’s Parks and Recreation millage. The agreement required it to be kept for 10 years. In June the park hit its 10-year mark and the council started considering what to do with it.
The problem with the park has been its location, since it was conceived by a local teen working on his Eagle Scout badge and Councilwoman Kay Atkins, who sought out the county funds.
At first, it was suggested to put it in the front of Village Park on Savage Road, but homeowners in adjoining Victoria Commons vigorously opposed that location.
It finally was sited on the edge of the park behind the city’s DPW yard and next to the industrial park.
It was not easily accessed and police could not adequately patrol it because young people doing illegal activity at the skatepark could see police coming and quickly scatter.
Boc told the council that his DPW department fixes something at the skatepark weekly. He said a steel picnic table recently was dragged across the DPW yard and thrown over the fence and placed on top of a skateboard ramp.
He said the safety bars are regularly peeled back. Garbage cans are set on fire and thrown into the pond.
“It’s terrible,” Boc said. “There’s a cost. Anytime there’s vandalism, there’s a cost.”
Belleville Police Cpl. Todd Schrecengost first spoke of the location and the damage to the properties in the industrial park next to the skatepark. He said the fence, signage and a pay phone have been destroyed at the skatepark.
He said he has witnessed narcotics and alcohol violations and intoxicated people over the age of 20 hanging out with young children.
“We can’t sneak up on them,” Cpl. Schrecengost said.
He said the skateboarders don’t wear helmets and there have been numerous medical runs, as well as unreported injuries of concussions and broken arms and legs.
“I like the skatepark, but I don’t like the location,” Schrecengost said.
He said the kids are climbing the DPW fence and trespassing. There’s 25 feet of fencing missing. Trash is stuffed here and there and graffiti includes racial slurs.
He said the city had good intentions 10 years ago, but the teens who worked to set it up now are in their 20s and have left Belleville and there are new generations here.
He suggested moving the location of the skatepark, if possible.
Bob Balderston of Second Street said he used to be a professional skateboarder on the East Coast in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He said he rides a bicycle in the city’s skatepark now even though he knows that’s against the rules. He called the skatepark “a derelict”.
He said there are adults drinking at the park and children shouldn’t be going there without their parents to supervise.
“That park is not friendly to children,” Balderston said, later suggesting it be removed because of its location not being accessible and in the public view. He also suggested putting it up somewhere else.
Sharon Gabrielson of Victoria Commons said she likes having the physical activity for her children so close. She said the children go with cell phones in their pockets and report bullying and other information to their parents.
“We really enjoy it and want it to stay,” she said.
Jeannette Parker said her three boys – ages 7, 10, and 13 — enjoy the skatepark and three springs in a row they took a bucket over and cleaned up the graffiti there. She said her boys go to the skatepark four or five times a week. She goes over at dusk when the “shadier crowd” is there and they have been very respectful of her.
She presented a packet of about 30 letters to the mayor from children who use the park and want the skatepark to stay open.
Tyler Gabrielson, one of the children present to lobby for the skatepark, stood to say he goes to the skate park. He said the children know which parts are broken and don’t use those parts.
“You go there to skate. You don’t go there to read,” Tyler said, referring to the graffiti.
Former City Councilman George Chedraue urged the council to listen to the “Six kids, great wonderful little children came to tell us what they want. Think of the six little children learning what civic government can do.”
Former Mayor Tom Fielder asked everyone to suggest ideas on what they would like to see in the park so the Parks and Recreation Commission could work on it.
In other business at Monday’s meeting, the council:
• Was informed the 800 MHz radios needed for the Belleville Police Department were purchased from Herkimer Radio for $19,667.25. With the $25,000 grant received that fully takes care of the radios that were needed, said City Manager Diana Kollmeyer, who gave Cpl. Schrecengost credit for doing all the work on the proposal. Schrecengost said they will be renewing licenses for the old equipment for backup use;
• Heard Kollmeyer introduce Berriman and announce that a semi backed into the city parking lot the previous week and ripped all the wires off city hall. Everything has been repaired, she said;
• Opened two bids for hot rubber crack filling on High and Liberty streets and awarded the contract to GMS Sealcoating for 50 cents per lineal foot. For 16,500 ft. that equals $8,250. The other bidder, S&J Asphalt Paving Co., bid $1.30 per lineal foot;
• Awarded the city engineering contract to Hennessey Engineers, Inc. on the recommendation of the administration. Three bids were opened on Aug. 20, for Hennessey, Stantec, and Spicer Group and sent to the administration for a report;
• Discussed at length a fireworks ordinance aimed at tightening up use in the city. Chief Berriman noted the ordinance would not be enforceable, but said they could use the noise ordinance if there was a problem. A public hearing on the ordinance was cancelled and the ordinance put on the back burner for more study. The council hoped the state legislature will change the fireworks law that has caused problems throughout the state;
• Heard Mayor Conley tell Chedraue that the council put the District Library Board’s request for a meeting with a “negotiating team” on its follow-up list and while she won’t be assembling a “negotiating” team, a council team will be appointed to meet with them;
• Heard Tom Fielder say he was privileged to work at the special election on Sept. 5 and after figuring out the cost, he said each vote cost the city $35. He thanked Thaddeus McCotter for causing the expense to the city;
• Heard Councilman Tom Smith say next Monday is the last Main Street Crusin’ Bayou car show for the season; and
• Heard Mayor Conley say she will not be at the next meeting on Oct. 1 and so Mayor Pro Tem Jack Loria will be chairing the session.