Tennis fans worry about losing their courts as Montclair plans to expand skate park
KATE ALBRIGHT/FILE PHOTO
By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Montclair has moved toward expanding its temporary skate park, and taking over all four tennis courts at Rand Park.
The first step will be a review of insurance costs and a risk analysis associated with the expansion of the park. Once that is cleared, an installation of skateable sculptures designed by U.S. Olympian Alexis Sablone across two tennis courts could begin as soon as March.
But some tennis enthusiasts are not happy with the plans for the park, and the loss of the four tennis courts currently there.
A temporary skate park was first opened in the summer of 2020 in two of the tennis courts at Rand Park. Then in July of last year, the Township Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution supporting a permanent skate park at Rand Park.
On Tuesday, Jan. 18, the council voted through another resolution, presented by Township Council members Peter Yacobellis and Robin Schlager, that would first direct the township manager to seek the analysis of insurance costs and review implications of the skate park with the township’s insurance agent, Garden State Municipal Joint Insurance Fund.
Yacobellis told Montclair Local that the insurance review is needed now due to “the change in scope of the skate park,” with the expansion and the addition of the sculptures.
“The Garden State Insurance Fund risk analysis will assess the level of risk and if our existing insurance covers that level of risk,” Yacobellis said.
The resolution also directs the township to include construction and maintenance of a permanent skate park in future plans for development of new or repurposed recreational facilities in Montclair, and in capital budget planning.
And it directs the township administration to collaborate with Skate Essex, which for three years has been lobbying for a permanent park and currently oversees the temporary park, on financing, development, operation and maintenance planning for a permanent skate park — considering sites including Rand Park.
Officials have been mostly supportive of a permanent skate park, but the location has remained an open question. Although the use of tennis courts as a temporary measure has been mostly met with approval, tennis enthusiasts have voiced opposition to losing play space, especially with the township's announcement of plans to take all of the four courts at Rand Park.
David Greenbaum, who is a skateboarder of 45 years and a tennis player, suggested that the township look to Erie Park for a permanent home.
“There is no reason for one amenity to replace another,” Greenbaum said.
The resolution does state, however: “Should it be determined by the Township that Rand Park is not the most suitable location for the permanent skate park, the Township will give consideration to the future use of the site, including, but not limited to, reverting the park back to its original use as tennis courts.”
With the closure of the four Rand Park courts, Montclair would still have 14 township courts and 10 county courts, Yacobellis said. There are various private facilities around Montclair, as well, he said, including Bradford Tennis and Pool, Montclair Golf Club and Glen Ridge Country Club.
But one tennis enthusiast who called in to the meeting asked that another area be sought for the skate park. She said that booking a court throughout Montclair is competitive, with the clinics, schools and private instructors taking up many of the time slots. She said that many residents can’t afford memberships to a private club.
However, as some callers noted, the vote on the resolution took place before before public comment.
Jamie Siwinski, Montclair High School skate club adviser, said the location at Rand makes the skate park accessible to students during the day. He called it a stress reducer for students who use it during lunch and breaks.
If the insurance review comes back with a “favorable outcome,” the plan is to install the skateable sculptures on the southern two courts, and to also keep the temporary skate park located on the northern courts already used by the skateboarders, Yacobellis said.
Council members Bill Hurlock and David Cummings voted against the resolution, saying they needed more information on the outcome of the insurance review, including costs and risks, before they could commit.
The resolution does not set aside funding for the park. The sculptures and their installation would be paid entirely by Skate Essex, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that has raised $40,000 to date.
Sablone and contractors 5th Pocket Skateparks are ready to begin construction of the sculptures, which is estimated to take three weeks. In the case of another location being chosen for a permanent park in the future, the sculptures could be moved to that location, Paul King, a member of Skate Essex’s board of trustees, said.
According to the resolution, Skate Essex will share responsibility for the maintenance of the skateable structures.
Township Manager Tim Stafford said he could not provide an estimate of how long the insurance review would take.
Builders have given Skate Essex preliminary cost estimates of $1.5 to $3 million for a complete skate park.
King said that the group is expecting a grant award from Tony Hawk’s foundation, The Skatepark Project.
He has said the skateable sculptures would put “Montclair on the map” as the only skate park in the U.S. to have Sablone’s sculptures, and fundraising will increase for a permanent park. Sablone, who attended a graduate program in architecture at MIT, has previously designed a skateable art public space in Sweden. She visited Montclair in January of 2021 to review Montclair’s space and meet with local skaters.