Is this innovative concept right for your community?
By John McConkey
Modular skateparks use individual obstacles of steel, aluminum or wood construction that can be configured in a multitude of ways to create a flexible skating environment. Modular skateparks have enjoyed unprecedented popularity because they offer flexible design options that can be reconfigured at a later date, are comparatively inexpensive to purchase, and they can be installed on a flat concrete surface of just about any size. Have an old single or double tennis court that's not getting much playing time? You can convert it to a modular skatepark with a relatively modest investment in time and money, and it will in no time be full of skateboarders. Or, if you are thinking on a grander scale, and also want a skatepark that is easy to reconfigure into a fresh skating experience, then modular is also your best choice.
A modular skatepark can serve the broadest range of skaters simply by including elements for every level of skating ability. It also can be designed and installed very quickly. A typical budget would range from $25,000 to $100,000-plus.
Other communities have chosen to build in-ground concrete skateparks because they have a large site that can be permanently devoted to a skatepark, and they have a budget of $250,000 to $750,000-plus. These skateparks are appropriate for communities that may be looking to give their local riders an experience that may not be available elsewhere in their area. By retaining highly qualified designers and contractors and working a full year in advance, these communities can make their concrete skatepark a destination for the entire region.
Now the hybrid form of skateparks has reached the radar screens of many parks and recreation departments as a way to provide the advantages of both modular and concrete construction. A hybrid skatepark typically features a poured concrete base and an integrated collection of two types of obstacles: those created from framed and poured-in-place concrete and those that are modular in design and can be periodically reconfigured to provide a fresh skating experience. For communities with budgets in the range of $150,000 to $300,000, hybrid skateparks can be an ideal choice. This approach gives you the ability to create each skatepark element out of whatever material is best suited to that application and to your overall design.
For Mike Dougherty, a Rotary International member in Black River Falls, Wis., his community's decision to construct a hybrid skatepark was the logical solution to a common problem: how to please many constituents with a limited budget.
"As the father of an avid skateboarder, I had been working with Steve Peterson, the parks and recreation director, since 2002 trying to find the right solution to our skatepark needs," Dougherty says. "We're a city of 3,500 in northwestern Wisconsin, and although we have many skateboarders in the community, we really had nowhere for them to skate. The project was having trouble gaining traction because we really did not have sufficient funds to build the skatepark. In 2005 our Rotary club chose to get involved in a big way. It was the 100th anniversary of Rotary International, and each local Rotary club was asked to do a special commemorative project. We thought that if we adopted this as our project we could work with the city to get it done."
With the local Rotary membership behind it, the project quickly built steam. Dougherty and his Rotary associates were able to raise $80,000 in just one day simply by appealing to the Rotary membership. They then set their sights on a targeted fund-raising effort to local businesses and citizens. Over several months they raised a total of $300,000. Buoyed by these efforts, Dougherty and Peterson began solidifying a vision for their skatepark.
"In the early stages, we contemplated a simple, modular skatepark set on a level slab, but as our fund-raising grew so did our vision," Dougherty says. "We began contemplating another site in the Lunda Park that had a slope to it, and we asked several manufacturers for their design suggestions. Just one of them…suggested that we consider a hybrid park. Immediately it seemed to be the right solution. We had a lot of skaters who wanted the unique continuous transition elements that you might find at an in-ground concrete skatepark and another group who wanted more of the traditional ramps and street skating elements. We thought that we might be able to achieve both with the hybrid approach."
According to Gregg Witt, a principal at California-based Artifex that specializes in community-specific skatepark design, the Black River Falls situation had all the criteria for a hybrid skatepark.
"They were looking for the flexibility and feel that a ramp park offers, and the customized forms, and integration of local color and materials that's possible with specialty concrete," Witt says. "Moreover, they had the budget and the willingness to design a park that reflects their local environment—both of which would enable them to design and construct a unique state-of-the-art hybrid park. Given their goals and budget, this solution simply gave them the most diverse riding experience for their money."
According to Witt, the folks in Black River Falls offer the perfect example of how to approach the hybrid skatepark design and construction process.
"Mike Dougherty and Steve Peterson did a fantastic job of doing the research and bringing the team together for their skatepark," Witt says. "We conducted design workshops with the area skaters to develop a wish list of elements and interviewed other concrete and modular skatepark managers in nearby towns to see what worked best for them. Above all, they recognized that this was a complex project that demanded professional designers and builders who were experienced in specialized skatepark design, manufacturing and construction."
On Aug. 12, more than 500 skateboarders showed up to christen the skatepark and thank the city and the Rotary for their efforts in making it a reality.
Dougherty believes the entire project was a big success.
"The kids really like the park," he says. "We were trying to build somewhat of a destination—something that would be different—and I think we accomplished that. The local kids are very happy they have a place to skate, and our visitors like the flexibility of the modular obstacles and the unique elements like the large rocks that we incorporated into it. We wanted variety, modularity and uniqueness and we got all three."
Mark Hanson is a Black River Falls resident who lobbied the city for a new skatepark for eight years before this hybrid skatepark arrived on the scene.
"This skatepark brings in a lot of riders from cities and towns that are one to two hours away," Hanson says. "Our park is not the biggest park, but it is totally unique the way it combines concrete with [modular] elements. I was one of the people who really wanted street skating elements because that is where skateboarding originated and that is the type of riding I was doing. The way they incorporated them with the concrete elements was incredible."