Making the case for the Jennings Beach skate park
All across America kids skateboard through town, and the adults get upset at the acrobatics on their steps and curbs. What’s unusual is a win-win solution—instigated by the kids. That’s what has just happened here.
Skateboarding has gained popularity since its inception in the 1970s, mainly among teenage boys. The allure is not transportation but tricks—jumps and flips and all manner of daring moves that need props. Herein lies the problem. The props are things like stairs and rails, curbs and different level surfaces, ramps, and, of course, concrete. The place where all these things exist locally is downtown Fairfield. The library steps, for example, are perfect. Pedestrians and store--owners, however, are not amused by boys whizzing along the sidewalk, and inevitably the police have to come out to shoo the riders away, a thankless task.
True, there’d been a skateboarding park, out by Jennings beach, owned by the YMCA. But to use it, a skater had to be a member and had to pay a fee. Besides, it was in pretty bad shape and was boring. So most riders chose downtown.
Enter Lou Heumann. She had just returned with her family from living in Europe where, apparently, almost any town of any size has a skateboard park. “Wherever we went, the boys”—her brothers Robbie (12) and Alvin (14)—“would take their boards because we knew there would be a park. Then we came back to Fairfield, and the boys found nothing but frustration with the little, shabby park here. ‘This is awful,’ they said.”
So Heumann began to talk with the YMCA people and got together a list of kids who had shown an interest in the Y park. She called a meeting and word spread fast through the boarding community. At the first meeting, 50 boys showed up to find out what was afoot. Out of this group, 15 boys showed more than keen interest in the idea of a new skate park, and a small contingent went to see First Selectman Ken Flatto, who was encouraging. So was Gerry Lombardo, the head of Parks and Rec. But the real test was going to be the Board of Finance who would have to approve the funds for such a venture. The boys showed up at meetings, pleaded their well-prepared case, and ultimately secured a promise for $225,000 for the project.
Anthony Calabrese at Parks and Rec worked with the boys to find a suitable builder, which turned out to be Breaking Ground, a Rhode Island firm that has built dozens of parks. Sam Batterson, the company’s president, came up with a few preliminary designs, but the boys had their own ideas. “Actually, they seemed to have pretty advanced ideas about the construction and flow,” he said. Flow is that all-important element of a modern skate park that allows riders to go smoothly from one part to another. At 10,000 square feet, the park is one of the largest in the northeast, says Batterson.
Will Lederer, 16, showed up at almost every design meeting. “I wanted the park to have a pole jam,” he said. A pole jam is a rod that rises out of the concrete at an angle. The skater flies up to this pole, rides the board up it, and somehow manages to stay connected to the board. Says Lederer: “The park is great. And part of it is mine.”
Trevor Bradford, 17, was also involved from the beginning, writing letters and meeting with the YMCA to urge the construction of a concrete skate park. The contribution he is most proud of is his influence in having the large concrete bowl as part of the park’s design. “It was lucky for us that the design company specialized in them,” he said.
Kids have to wear helmets and pads when riding at the park, a self-enforcing system. There is a fair amount of camaraderie there too with older, more experienced skaters showing newbies the ropes. The grand opening, complete with landscaping, will happen sometime this spring. Meanwhile, a lack of aesthetics is irrelevant to happy skateboarders, 120 of whom showed up to try the park the first weekend it was usable. It was immediately declared “awesome.”