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Ethan Lillie was one of a dozen skateboarders who oppose limiting the skate park's hours.
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Mitch Wilbur said he wants to keep active through biking and crafting his skills rather than sitting inside all day.
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The City Council chambers were filled with opponents of closing the park during school hours.
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The Parks Commission made no determination on the future of the park Tuesday night.

Skaters, Bikers Raise Opposition to Limiting Pittsfield Park Hours

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Ethan Lillie earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Southern California. 
 
And he is a skateboarder.
 
Now living back home, the Pittsfield native heads down to the skate park on his days off; it's his preferred form of exercise. But now there is an effort afoot to limit his and others access to the city's only skate park.
 
"I work here as an engineer professionally and the less there is for me to do that fall into my interests, the less likely I will stay in the community," Lillie told the Parks Commission on Tuesday.
 
He was just one of nearly a dozen residents speaking in opposition to a request from Pittsfield High School officials to install a locked gate at the park to restrict access during school hours. The School Committee voted last week to ask the commission to limit the hours, volunteering to take responsibility of locking and unlocking the gate.
 
The commissioners took no action on Tuesday.
 
Principal Matthew Bishop says there is an array of issues stretching the resources the school has to keep watch over its students.
 
"This isn't an attack on skating. This isn't an attack on the park," Bishop said. "We're at the point where we do need help. We are monitoring a city park that is outside of our jurisdiction." 
 
The park has become a distraction for the students, Bishop said, and it is making it difficult for school officials to keep students safe. While the park is the city's responsibility, Bishop believes when students are congregating there, they are the school's responsibility. The skate park has become a "gathering spot" for students and that's led to larceny issues, students throwing snowballs at cars, students skipping class and loitering there, and increases in gang graffiti and vandalism.
 
One day staff walked into the park to find a someone — not a student — sitting inside the bowl eating a party pizza and smoking marijuana. Bishop says there are parking issues and that students can't be seen from inside the building if they go to the park. And the school has had to respond to injured students at the park.
 
"Not one of these things in itself is the reason, it is a cumulative issue. It is something most of the time. It is something we find ourselves being in," Bishop said.
 
Two weeks ago, two students were involved in an altercation and stabbing that led PHS to invoke a "shelter in place." 
 
"It is our primary responsibly to educate our students in a safe and secure environment. The safety and security is seriously jeopardized," School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said.
 
The students involved in the stabbing weren't skaters or bikers, though, as many skateboarders and bikers attested to on Tuesday. The skate park just happened to be the location the incident occurred and by closing it, the city will just be moving the problem elsewhere while punishing those who use the park properly, they said.
 
"We're getting a bad image like we've always gotten," said Luke Kessler, saying the city is quick to blame the park for the issues. "That local area could have been anywhere." 
 
Lillie said the request is reactionary and "it does seem to be an issue about perception. Why not shutter the ballfields behind Pittsfield High School?"
 
The skateboarders and bikers called for alternative options such as cameras and more supervision on the students causing trouble rather than closing the park. Incoming Councilor at Large Peter White vowed to work with the Parks Commission to come up with an alternative solution to keep the park open.
 
"I am completely committed to working with you on this issue," White said. 
 
He added, "It is the most used park in the city. When you drive by it, it is full" and keeping it closed until 2:30 in the afternoon will limit the amount of daylight hours people can use it. 
 
Matt Reardon, a PHS graduate, spends most of his free time there. He's a college-educated resident with a full-time job. He heads down to the park when he gets a day off or gets out early. He says the only trouble there is caused by the students, and not the skaters. Many times trouble happens during the lunch hours when the students are allowed to leave campus.
 
"The issue is the supervision at the park isn't well. It would nice to have some staff members there to watch over them or an officer," Reardon said.
 
Bill Whittaker, who owns The Garden skate shop on North Street, recalled how he'd get in trouble when he ducked out of Taconic High School. One of those who spearheaded the skate park, he said his out-of-town customers like to stop by the park but the open lunch policy at the high school leads to problems.
 
"I think it is [the problem]. If you give the kids an inch, they'll take a mile," Whittaker said, adding that once the students get used to just walking out of the door whenever, they'll do it at all hours.
 
Whittaker called for looking at other options like live video feeds, so parents can keep an eye on the park, or surveillance videos. 
 
"I strongly believe a lot of it is the off-campus lunch," said AJ Roy, who remembers when the space was a tennis court and there were some 30 or more students out there smoking and causing trouble. 
 
Bishop, however, rejects that notion saying the park is the safest during lunch because the school has staff outside of the building to keep a closer eye on the area. Bishop said most of the issues occur between 12:30 and 2:30, after most students have taken lunch.
 
"We've had as many issues off of lunch time than on lunch time so this is not about the open campus," Bishop said. 
 
Superintendent Jason McCandless called the argument against the open lunch policy a "red herring" and added that the school doesn't get complaints from anywhere else about the policy. 
 
During the day, Bishop says there are only four or five adults who use the park while it can sometimes attract upward of 30 to 40 students. McCandless the request isn't about the skaters who do use the park properly, it is about protecting the 1,100 people inside of the school.
 
"We admire and respect the appropriate use of the park and we admire and respect the appropriate users of the park," McCandless said. "Those who misuse the park create a place that is too often unsafe." 
 
Yon called the proposal a compromise in that it will keep the park open for those who want to use it properly, just not between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. 180 days out of the year. She said the gate doesn't have to be permanent and the community can work together to find other solutions. 
 
When asked if the closure would move the problems elsewhere, Bishop conceded that some issues will move but wouldn't be in the quantity of misbehaving students there are now because the temptation for students to just cross the street is too great — particularly with the most at-risk students. 
 
Lillie countered saying skateboarding can actually help many at-risk youth by keeping them from getting into trouble.
 
"Skateboarding and biking are relative low-cost activities that you can do that are perceived as cool and that can get kids active and into patterns where they have an activity and something to do," Lillie said.
 
At the end of almost an hour and a half of comments, the Parks Commission took no action on the school's request and said there would be a possible vote at another board meeting. Chairman John Hermann told the crowd at the start of the meeting that Tuesday's discussion would only be for "information gathering."
 
"This has come up rather quickly. This will be information gather and the Parks Commission will meet at a future meeting to vote," Hermann said.

Tags: parks commission,   PHS,   public parks,   skate park,   

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Pittsfield School Committee Discuss Master Plan

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There's a sense of urgency to conduct the districtwide master plan for the Pittsfield Public Schools. 
 
Mayor Linda Tyer told the rest of the School Committee on Wednesday that she recently toured some of the schools and felt that the district needs to begin the master planning process sooner than later.
 
"I am concerned about the disparity of our school facilities and school buildings as it relates to neighborhoods versus other neighborhoods," she said. "I really hope that the committee can move forward with the school master planning process ... I enjoy spending time in the schools but it reminds me that we have some work to do."
 
The committee plan to undergo a master planning process to not only survey the condition of the buildings but also the best configuration of the district. This could mean closing schools.
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