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SOUTH PORTLAND — Legere Park in Knightville emerged as the front-runner at an inaugural meeting Monday to gather input about where to build a skate park.
About 30 people attended the South Portland Community Center meeting led by Councilor Kate Lewis, Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Adams and Anthony Johnson, parks and recreation operations manager.
City councilors said last month they are seeking volunteers for an ad hoc committee to meet monthly to identify possible sites for the park along with funding models.
They said they would like to fast-track the project and possibly have it open by summer 2019.
The project was spearheaded by several middle school students who circulated an online petition last year to urge the council to consider building a park.
Emmons Whited, a rising eighth-grader, said he would ideally like to have an in-ground park because it’s a better and more exciting design for users. He compared it to the difference between an in-ground or above-ground pool.
Lewis said the intent of the meeting was to get people together to talk about the project, its history, what elements people want in a park, possible locations, and how to raise funds for construction.
Johnson provided information about parks in Portland, Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough. He said they can have a positive economic impact for a community and provide a safe environment for children, teenagers and adults for skating, biking and using scooters.
Portland’s park, which is undergoing a $350,000 expansion, was built in 2010 and is 8,500 square feet. It cost $250,000 to build and was paid for with a mix of city funds and grants.
Old Orchard Beach’s skate park was built in 2015, is about half the size of the Portland park, and cost $113,000 to build.
But the city’s largest obstacle is finding a suitable location.
According to a 2017 feasibility study, Legere Park could house the project. It is within walking distance of Mahoney Middle School, Holy Cross School and Small elementary school, on a bus line, and is eligible to receive Federal Community Development block grants.
Legere is also an attractive location for the project because it already has 32 parking spaces nearby, is city-owned, and is highly visible to the public.
Pleasantdale resident Rosemarie DeAngelis said Legere seems to be a viable location, and suggested kids in the city be given free bus passes to ride to the park. She said the location also has easy access to Portland and Cape Elizabeth.
Other places eligible for federal money include the Redbank and Brick Hill neighborhoods and Pleasantdale. Other locations suggested for the build include the Wainwright sports complex and behind the old Hamlin School on Ocean and Sawyer streets.
Lewis said identifying a location and having committee formed by July is key for moving the project forward, with construction to potentially begin next summer.
Knightville resident Caroline Hendry said although she is supportive of a skate park, she is concerned about using Legere Park for the site. She said green space is important for the community, and an aspect of the park she wants to preserve, considering many houses in Knightville have no garden or lawn space.
Melanie Wiker, another Knightville resident, asked why the city was not considering an indoor park that could be used year-round.
Adams said if the city was to consider an indoor park, like the one in Bath, it would have to purchase a vacant industrial-sized building.
Tom Long, owner of Long’s Board Shop on Clarks Pond Parkway, said he’s been part of several skateboard park committees in area towns and cities. He pointed out skateboarding became an Olympic sport in 2020.
“It’s not a fringe activity,” he said, adding towns need to create multi-use parks for residents.
He suggested the city also look not just at cost when bidders submit applications, but to also consider the material and reputations of the companies proposing a plan.
“The park needs to stand up to abuse,” he said, adding it should be close to other community activities.
Councilor Kate Lewis speaks to residents Monday night about the proposal to build a skate park in the city.