Calling it a danger to those who skateboard there, an insurance inspector for the town of Oak Bluffs has called for the town skate park on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven road to be closed immediately.
Paul Chipman, senior risk control consultant for the town’s insurance carrier Trident Insurance, sent a letter to town administrator Michael Dutton on March 19 laying out his concerns about hazardous conditions at the park, while recommending it be closed immediately.
“Unfortunately, after a careful review of my findings and photographs of the conditions of the park, my recommendation would be to close it . . . there are too many hazards that currently exist, and these are typical of parks that have wooden elements,” Mr. Chipman wrote.
In a report accompanying the letter, Mr. Chipman said that Mr. Dutton contacted him earlier this year regarding the removal of some damaged fencing around the skateboarding park. Mr. Dutton told him he had been contacted by the representatives of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard, which is nearing completion of their new building behind the skate park, who asked if that fencing could be removed.
Not having seen the park, Mr. Chipman visited the facility on March 8 and found a number of safety problems. His report said the original wood frame elements were in poor condition with protruding wood screws, while repairs had been made with steel plates which formed unsafe angles that could pose tripping and laceration hazards.
“[There are] open sides which can cause a boarder to catch a wheel and slide under the structure. This allows debris to gather underneath. [There is] one small lighter-weight structure that appeared not to be anchored in place, which could allow it to shift (unexpectedly to the boarder) causing a fall.”
Mr. Chipman also found a new wooden half-pipe set too near to the road and waiting area for the Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority buses. The riding surface of that half-pipe, his report said, was made of bare plywood, which is subject to splintering.
There were also pieces of plywood and bicycle parts around the site, Mr. Chipman noted, which also could cause an accident.
“In summary, the park has no regular maintenance or upgrades, and should be closed. The town should meet with whatever group represents the users, to develop a comprehensive plan to upgrade and update the park,” Mr. Chipman wrote.
Mr. Dutton said this week he gave the letter to the selectmen for their consideration. He said there are no immediate plans to shut down the skate park, and the next step is to speak with representatives of the Martha’s Vineyard Skate Park Association, a nonprofit corporation.
“We are looking into this, and we will make a decision in the coming weeks. Nobody wants to see the skate park shut down; we will try to find some type of speedy and safe resolution,” he said.
The Martha’s Vineyard Skate Park was completed in 2003 following a nearly 16-year campaign to raise the necessary funding and public support. It was built on land donated by the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and leased to the town.
Construction was financed by the Martha’s Vineyard Skate Park Association, which covered the costs through gifts, fund-raising and donations. The park did not cost Oak Bluffs any money to build, and was built by volunteer workers who contributed money, equipment and supplies.
The idea began here nearly 15 years ago, when Sean Welch, an Edgartown resident and avid skater, built a ramp for skateboarding at the Martha’s Vineyard Boys’ and Girls’ Club in Edgartown.
The ramp got a lot of use but was destroyed by a storm one January afternoon. The budding group of Island skateboard enthusiasts then decided to look for a permanent home, and asked the regional high school committee for a piece of land.
Elaine Barse, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Skate Park Association, said she was unaware of the problems at the skate park until a reporter told her about Mr. Chipman’s letter this week. She said she disagreed with many of the findings in his report.
“I think some of it is a little over the top. We need to talk to the town and get their thoughts,” she said. “This is coming from an insurance company’s risk consultant, who obviously is going to have a different take on some of these issues.
“Obviously there are some maintenance issues that need to be addressed. I don’t think it requires the closing of the park,” she added.
Ms. Barse noted that nobody has sustained a serious injury in the seven-year history of the park. While there have been a few broken wrists and ankles, and the usual assortment of skinned knees, bumps and bruises, she said this is not unexpected at a skate park.
“I don’t think that is anything different from what you would find in standardized sports like baseball or football,” she said.
Ms. Barse also strongly disagreed with Mr. Chipman’s conclusion the park does not have routine maintenance. She said the park is regularly inspected, repaired and maintained by Nick Briggs, a member of the association, who makes sure the facility is safe for the young skaters.
Ms. Barse also said kids are going to skateboard whether there is a designated park or not.
“Closing the park is not going to stop kids from skateboarding; they were doing that long before the park opened. If anything, this gives them a place to go that is centrally located. We’d rather have them skating here than at the SBS parking lot [in Tisbury] or at the airport.”