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Decatur playground, skatepark talks tabled

By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer

The playground at Decatur Park may be in for a makeover now that it’s atop the Berlin Parks Commission’s wishlist. Commission liaison Mary Bohlen compared the vision for it to Ben’s Red Swings in Salisbury. JACK CHAVEZ/BAYSIDE GAZETTE

(July 28, 2022) The Berlin mayor and Town Council tabled until August the Parks Development Plan that the Parks Commission submitted at its meeting on Monday.

The annual plan is a way to prioritize the various projects to fund over the next year and this year included two items: a revitalized, inclusive Stephen Decatur Park and a skate park study and contract negotiation, in that order.

“An inclusive playground at Stephen Decatur Park will include the removal of most if not all of the existing playground equipment, which is reaching (the end of) its useful life and replacing it with one large playground campus, for lack of a better word,” said acting town administrator Mary Bohlen.

Bohlen compared the idea to Ben’s Red Swings in Salisbury — a large outdoor playground park near the Salisbury Zoo similar in scale.

The second priority, which saw some debate and public pushback regarding how slow the town seems to be going about it, is a skate park study.

Councilmember Jack Orris asked if a study even needs to occur, as it seemed like a waste of taxpayer money when the council could simply undertake that duty itself.

The priority order and lack of funding certainty left one member of the public in the audience, We Heart Berlin’s Tony Weeg, who is running for town council in District 4, grousing over the lack of urgency he’s seen.

A few minutes earlier, Weeg, who has helped lead the efforts to build a skatepark and conduct feasibility studies, rattled off a few potential locations of parks and his desire to see the town put its wallet behind the project.

“I’d really love to see some of this funding come from the town and grant funds … instead of it just being private stuff,” Weeg said.

Berlin Mayor Zack Tyndall pointed out that just because the skatepark is a lower priority, doesn’t mean that it won’t be addressed

“What you have here is that the Parks Commission has reallocated this inclusive playground to the top of the list for … community parks and playground funding,” Tyndall said. “it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to work for the skatepark side of things. But if the project could potentially … end up in a park, then I think that needs to be presented to the Planning Commission first with a recommendation to the mayor and council.”

Councilmember Jay Knerr pointed out that funding for the skatepark has started, but there is none currently for the playground.

After a bit more discussion on the dais, Weeg chimed in again to suggest a commission charged exclusively with evaluating skate park feasibility.

“Can we get past leaving this to the PC’s world and maybe create a skatepark committee that can help move this along and maybe have experts in the realm instead of people who are maybe not skatepark experts trying to make decisions or figuring things out? Would that make more sense?”

“We need to get this skatepark going instead of kicking it down the road even more.”

Bohlen added that she wasn’t even sure if the Planning Commission was “convinced that a skate park is the direction.”

“Can we get a new Planning Commission then?” Weeg said.

Councilmember Dean Burrell rejected the idea of a skatepark commission.

“What needs to happen is our present Planning Commission could call upon some of the folks who have this knowledge of skateparks to serve as a resource in their determinations that must be made going forward,” Burrell said.

“I can’t proceed with this unless I have Planning Commission members sit here and explain to me what’s going to happen. The Planning Commission was created and the various commissions the town has to keep these types of decisions and discussions out of the political realm, which means when it gets to us it becomes political. I would prefer hearing from the Planning Commission directly as to their wishes associated with these options.”