Skateboard park among several Howland revitalization plans

Posted May 20, 2011, at 7:46 p.m.

HOWLAND, Maine — Glenn Brawn sees skateboarders in his travels around town. Anywhere from six to a dozen, the kids — usually young teenagers — go from place to place in search of clean, relatively flat pavement on which to play.

Brawn wants to give them a home.

The first-year selectman is looking to recruit skateboarders and revitalize a recreation committee formed years ago to see about creating a skateboard park in the recreation area opposite the former Howland tannery building.

Never much of a skateboarder himself, the 50-year-old owner of A & G Dirtworks Inc. of Howland is not sure exactly how much a skateboard park would cost, but he is certain of one thing: It will not cost the town’s government a dime if he can help it.

“I am not looking for it to be a budget item for the Howland taxpayer,” Brawn said earlier this week. “Given these economic times, people are doing all they can possibly do [to pay their taxes] and I am very, very aware of that. We just do not have the money, so we will have to seek grant money.”

Town Manager Jane Jones, who supports the idea, is beginning to search for state or federal grant funding to pay for a park, she said.

Brawn is also hoping that committee members will contact him so that he can set a meeting date and acquaint himself with any plans they might have already drawn up. He also hopes to eventually discuss ideas with local teens and skateboarders to see what a good skateboarding area would need. Anyone interested in participating can contact him at gbrawn@hotmail.com or at 290-5054.

He figures that Memorial Park would be the best location for it, given that town workers recently installed an ice skating area there and that it is also home to softball and baseball fields. It also has a lighting system.

In some ways, Brawn’s idea is among the growing list of possibilities townspeople see in the ongoing revitalization of the tannery building site, which is on the opposite side of U.S. Route 2 and of the two Howland bridges, one of which is in the process of being replaced.

Once home to the town’s largest employer, the tannery site is part of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust’s plans to build a fish bypass in a project designed to open nearly 1,000 miles of habitat to Atlantic salmon, alewives and other sea-run fish now blocked from migrating upriver. The project was permitted last year.

As part of the project, town officials are developing once-contaminated land not occupied by the bypass. The town was awarded a $600,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant in May 2009 to pay for the removal of contaminants left on three shoreline spots. Cleanup work began last year and is expected to finish this year.

An economic development committee has been tasked with envisioning what the entire tannery area, which basically sits between the town’s two bridges along Route 2, and the accompanying park could look like if creatively revitalized.

Decades ago, both were part of a very small but thriving town center, and the revitalization, town officials have said, could give the town a new and welcome vitality.

Skateboard parks have been at least discussed in other towns. Lincoln officials considered trying to create one in 2009, but the effort died. Pittsfield created one as part of a larger ski slope area. East Millinocket town and business leaders helped build one next to the Public Safety Building in 2009. Teens in Bucksport are building one at the town ice skating area this spring.

Brawn, who mentioned the skate park idea during a town budget workshop earlier in the week, said he doesn’t know why the previous recreation committee effort to build such a park was abandoned. He said it might have been dropped due to town insurance and liability fears, which Jones has assured him would be baseless. Such a park, she has said, would be properly covered under town insurance.

“This is all in the very, very early planning stages,” Brawn said. “But there is at least one other selectmen I know [who] has shown interest, so I think we can make it work.”

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