2011-12-08 / Front Page

Armory rehab bond OK’d, board created

Skate park move clears hurdle, encounters another
BY BETH BROGAN Times Record Staff


An hour of organized, impassioned pleas from Bath-area teens and adolescents to save their “ second home” Wednesday evening preceded a series of votes by the Bath City Council that funds renovations to the former National Guard Armory building and authorizes the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark to use the city-owned building.

But Steve Balboni, director of Bath’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which manages youth center operations, said after the vote that he wasn’t sure what to make of one of several votes taken Wednesday, specifically one that created a board of directors to oversee the armory building.

Students from Bath Middle School and Morse High School, among others, queued at the podium for just more than an hour Wednesday night. They implored councilors to support relocating the skate park to the armory. The skate park and youth center, formerly housed in part of the old YMCA building on Summer Street, closed Sunday after the City Council earlier this year voted to raze the building as a safety hazard.

“We all need a place to go,” one youth said. “That park was my childhood. If a place was your childhood and you’d been going there your whole life, how would you feel? The last night the park was open we, cried — a lot … Please give us a place to go.”

“Closing the skate park — I’m not going to say it’s going to lead us to crime and drugs, which it probably will … but we’re going to go back to our Xboxes,” Evelyn Underwood warned.

“These kids want to stand up for something they love and they want it to be enough,” Morse High School student Heather Hook said. “I want these kids to feel like they’re wanted and I want these kids to have a new home.”

Following a unanimous City Council vote Wednesday to bond up to $ 450,000 to renovate the old armory building — although the low bid received and accepted was for $217,777 — Ward 3 Councilor Kyle Rogers made a surprise motion to establish a nonprofit organization with a board of directors to operate the armory. He said it would be similar to the organization of the cityowned Customs House. The new armory board would charge the skate park rent, he said, and be able to secure grants.

“It just seems to be a cleaner way to do it than to just dump it in the Recreation Department’s lap,” Rogers said, adding later, “ I just want to make sure that building is taken care of in perpetuity, just as the Customs House is.”

Balboni told the council that the skate park already has the ability to secure grants, and that he worried that “another level of bureaucracy … creates a lot more issues.”

“We can’t lose out and send all those kids out because there’s some other business that can pay more rent than us,” Balboni said.

Several councilors supported tabling the item, but failed to gain enough support, and newly elected City Council chairman David Sinclair broke a tie, voting in favor of creating the board.

However, Sinclair qualified his vote, noting that he is “not in favor of charging rent … and I would work against such a proposal if that proposal is made.”

Immediately following that vote, Rogers moved to strike from the council agenda an item that asked the council to authorize use of the armory by the skate park. He said he hoped to bring the discussion up again after the new board organization had been established.

At- large City Councilor Andy Winglass said the council needed to “send a signal” to the skate park supporters “that they’re going to be the primary tenant.”

Following Wednesday’s discussion, Balboni said, “It seems like we have some usage in the building. … But my concern would be how long it takes for the (board of directors) to be set up,” and what the former skate park users do in the meantime.

“The council still voted to support the Rec Department and Box 19 (an antique fire engine group) moving to the armory,” City Manager Bill Giroux said. “I think the council has shown solid support … and I think we’ll probably avoid what could have seen a nasty petition.”

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