ORLEANS -- For Jamie Demitri, the Finch Skate Park is more than just a place for kids to recreate. It’s an emblem of hard work.
“Your community built that,” Demitri, who manages the Pump House Surf Shop in town on Route 6A, told the select board Sept. 1. “They came together and they volunteered their time, their money, their equipment, their workers.”
Demitiri, along with other skate park advocates, expressed concern over a proposal to relocate the park on Eldredge Park Way to make room for a new fire station on land occupied by the Nauset Middle School athletic fields.
Ron Collins, the town’s facilities manager, presented a concept to the select board Sept. 1 that called for relocating the skate park, which is to the south of the site near Eldredge Park Way, 150 feet to help make room for a new two-story station. The proposal would also call for a baseball diamond on the property to be rotated 90 degrees.
While the town initially authorized funding through town meeting last fall to explore a renovation of the existing station abutting the fields, the select board last month unanimously voted to expand the scope of a previously-approved feasibility study to explore options for building a new station. The current station, which was built in 1987, is too small and outdated to meet the design and safety needs of a modern station, according to Ted Galante, the consultant hired to oversee the study.
Further complicating matters is the lack of readily available space to site a new station without impacting fire department response times.
“In Orleans, we don’t have any land of sufficient size in the right location to build a new station,” Collins said, noting that between two and three acres of land is needed to accommodate a new station.
The middle school site addresses that concern, and Collins said the new station could also be tied into the town sewer. But select board members said there is much more discussion to be had before the plan as presented can be pursued.
Select board member Mark Mathison said he first wanted input from the Nauset Regional School Committee on the concept, seeing as the new station would be built on land owned by the Nauset School District. Residents and officials from the other district towns of Eastham, Brewster and Wellfleet might also want to give their input on the plan, he said.
“It becomes a difficult sell, I think, beyond just a fire station,” he said.
Mathison also had concerns that the project as proposed will require “a substantial give” from the town in order to get the regional school committee on board with the proposal, which would only add more cost to the project.
Select board member Andrea Reed said she is “nowhere near ready” to move ahead with the concept until other site options are considered.
“We haven’t completed the process of ruling other parcels out,” she said.
The existing fire station property should also be considered, even if only to create a “baseline” for comparing the cost of other sites, select board chairman Mefford Runyon said.
Collins said there is $48,000 left in the money approved for the feasibility study, but that the money cannot be used to explore other site options unless the scope of the study is expanded. An article will go before town meeting voters next month asking for the change of scope.
“Right now, we’re not authorized to go out and do all that work based on that [article approved at town meeting],” he said.
Town Administrator John Kelly also advised the select board to create a building committee to lead efforts to site a new station.
“The problem is you can’t evaluate a new facility without a site,” he said. “That’s the dilemma.”
Runyon said he favored talking with the regional school committee to gauge members’ interest in the proposal. Kelly said while reaching out to the school committee would be a “good first step” toward figuring out how to proceed, the public process had to begin with a presentation to the select board.
“It needs to start with this board,” he said. “We can’t reach out to the school committee without your authorization.”
The board voted 3-0 to authorize Kelly to enter into conceptual discussions with the regional school committee about using the land for a new fire station. But the question remained as to what will ultimately happen with the skate park, which first opened 26 years ago.
Erica O’Reilly of Nauset Together We Can, who has managed the skate park for more than three years, said since the park’s renovation in 2018, the park has become a “year-round, multi-generational active recreation hub” in town. She said many local and municipal groups deserve credit in the park’s success, including the town’s police, fire, health and public works departments, the Nauset Regional School Committee, the Orleans Community Preservation Committee and the town’s recreation department.
“We are committed to keeping an open and honest dialogue with all parties to the extent that the firehouse project may impact the park, and we ask that the select board commit to doing the same,” she said during the Sept. 1 hearing.
But Eileen Ryan, who was instrumental in bringing the skate park to town, took issue with how the concept for the new station was unveiled, calling the process “disrespectful” to those involved with the park’s operation.
“My rec director knew nothing about it, so to have it come out the way it did was not the best way,” she said.
“I think we have the message loud and clear that there are things we have to protect in our community,” Reed said. “We’ll work with that in mind.”
Collins reiterated that the conversation with the select board was a starting point toward future discussions involving the public.
“We have to deal out in the open. We’re beyond talking in a back room. We have to start with a concept, and that’s where we are tonight,” he said.
Speaking after the Sept. 1 meeting, Orleans Fire Chief Geof Deering said he and his department are “big fans” of the skate park. He said whether a new station is sited on school property or elsewhere in town, he hopes a location can be found that works for all parties involved.
“We desperately need a new building, but not at the expense of other community groups,” he said. “The question is ‘How do we find something that works for everyone in Orleans?’”