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Correspondent

SHIRLEY — A United Way Youth Venture group in town is making strides, and has impressed a panel, with its plans to establish a skateboard park in town.

“Skaters of Shirley,” or S.O.S., is comprised of nine students from Lura A. White School, Shirley Middle School and The Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, who came together last year to start planning the park, said Youth Venture supporter Kathryn Lyon.

S.O.S. presented its plans to a panel comprised of several residents, town officials, and a fellow venturer last Friday night, which resulted in a grant award of $1,000 to advance the project. The grant was provided by the United Way Youth Venture, in partnership with the Mount Wachusett Community College Center for Democracy and Humanity.

That money has already been earmarked to ramp up fund-raising activities by the S.O.S. team, Lyons explained. The group will purchase T-shirts and coffee mugs printed with its logo, which will be sold to benefit the park. It will also fund a mailing to solicit donations from residents and businesses, as well as a benefit dance planned for May, she said.

Prior to appearing before the panel, the group met with the Benjamin Hill Park Committee, according to Lyon. Committee members recommended that S.O.S. predict possible questions that might come up during the panel discussion, and arrange their answers in advance, she said.

In fact, the recent panel commended the group for doing just that, said Lyon.

Two members of S.O.S., Sam Robinson and Brandon Parker, prepared a PowerPoint presentation for the event which outlined rules and plans for maintaining the skate park. Also included in the presentation were fund-raising plans and materials needed for building the park, depending upon how successful the group is with obtaining donations.

“I thought it went really well, because the adults were really amazed at how we set up the whole presentation,” said S.O.S. member Nicholas Day, who attends the seventh grade at Shirley Middle School.

The panel discussion started at 6:15 p.m., he said, but the S.O.S. team met at 4 p.m. to practice their presentation.

“I think we all were nervous,” Day said. “It was something new for us all, and we weren’t really sure how it was going to go.”

Day, who is not a skateboarder himself, said the park will give skateboarders a place to practice, and may encourage students who don’t skate to learn how. There are several skateboarders in Shirley, he said, but only four of them are members of S.O.S. There are also a lot of “skaters” in Groton, he noted.

“It’s a perfect spot for all the skaters,” he said, since skaters must now travel to Fitchburg.

Police Chief Paul Thibodeau announced his support for the project, according to Lyon, and afterward gave the students a tour of the police station. Thibodeau suggested that the group use the same rules that apply to the pool and existing park.

The only concern was how the group would set aside money for maintenance, said Lyon.

S.O.S. plans to pass along fund-raising activities to future generations of park users, or if possible turn control of the skate park over to the pool committee. The pool committee could include a charge for residents purchasing a family pass to the pool to include admittance to the skate park as well, S.O.S. members suggested.

“I’m definitely really happy with the outcome,” said Robinson, who also admitted to being nervous prior to the meeting but was pleased with the results. “We were definitely really prepared because we’ve been working really hard.”

Robinson, who is one of the skaters on the S.O.S. team, was knowledgeable about materials and various ramp designs.

The material most preferred to skateboard on is wood, he explained, but the New England climate would ruin a wooden ramp. Instead, a hybrid material called “Skatelite” has the feel of wood but better durability, said Robinson.

The presentation included an outline explaining why a skate park is good for the community, he pointed out.

First, it will be safer for children to use the skateboard park, since some are using the streets, which can be dangerous, Robinson said. Second, skateboarding provides exercise, and third, learning a new skill gives kids a sense of accomplishment, said Robinson.

“If we build a park, it gives kids a chance that don’t know how, to try (skateboarding),” he said.

The group plans to meet with the Board of Selectmen shortly to discuss its plans, said Day.

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