Modularity Is the Spice of Life
By Jim Moss and Missy Mittag
Webster's Dictionary defines "modularity" as "being constructed with standardized units or dimensions for flexibility and variety in use." Due to component standardization, a truly modular skatepark system provides the variety, flexibility and economy that most municipalities are seeking.
A modular system takes a standard part, such as a 4-foot-square riding surface, and allows it the flexibility to be anything from a 12-inch-high grind box to a 12-foot-high vert ramp platform deck, depending on the length of the interchangeable legs that are attached underneath it. A good modular system should have a wide variety of leg heights, available in 1-foot increments.
That 4-foot-square surface can also have a variety of components attached to any or all of its four sides, whether it's a quarter-pipe, half-pipe, bank ramp or additional like-surfaces to allow unlimited deck depth or ramp width. This type of flexibility lends itself to creativity in skatepark design, using a wide variety of standardized parts to create unique, customized skateparks.
Modular skatepark equipment is manufactured in three basic material combinations: steel framework with a steel riding surface, steel framework with a phenolic riding surface and composite framework with a phenolic riding surface. All three are solid building methods if properly engineered and fabricated. Each has pros and cons, so make sure that you investigate which construction materials will best suit your particular needs, including consideration of the severity of your facility's climate and the amount of usage you anticipate.
Modular systems also offer flexible options for making future additions to your skatepark as more funding becomes available. There is no need to wait until enough funding is in place to purchase a skatepark in its final form. Multiple skatepark phases are ideal for communities that need a place for skaters right now, but also need to work within annual budget constraints. A modular system allows small parks to become big parks as more funding becomes available. Some communities even see their skateparks outgrow their available space. In such cases, a modular system can be disassembled and relocated to a different site.
In addition to variety and flexibility, the modular manufacturing concept allows customers to get more equipment for their money due to engineering and fabrication efficiencies that are gained through the production of standardized parts. In fact, this type of system not only saves money on the equipment side, it also can save the cost of expensive design work (which most modular providers offer as a free service) and extensive site preparation. (Modular systems only need a concrete or asphalt surface to sit on, which in some cases already exists as an abandoned tennis or basketball court, or parking lot.)
A few years ago, modular systems were somewhat limited in their ability to create the plazas, bowls and snake-runs available with in-ground concrete construction. Such limitations gave the term "modular" a somewhat negative connotation in the skating community. However, due to advancements in technology, things that were previously possible only in concrete or site-built wooden construction are now available in a modular skatepark system.
Because of this, you no longer need to choose between a "modular" and a "custom" skatepark. Instead, your choice is between an above-ground (modular) and in-ground concrete skatepark. A modular system can be just as customized as a good design team can make it. The equipment should not be a limiting factor.
When evaluating modular skatepark systems, you should beware of manufacturers that offer limited ramp heights and limited ramp selection. These two constraints almost always result in a very repetitive skatepark layout that lacks variety and ongoing challenge. Light-duty construction materials will force your budget to be spent on frequent maintenance, rather than allowing you to spend those dollars to provide additional equipment.
Also, be aware that some systems are marketed as "modular" but do not offer the important features of true modularity. These systems are not designed to be altered or augmented, but rather are fully fabricated "modules," very limited in size and variety.
Variety, flexibility and economy are the three main "spices" that make a good modular skatepark system ideal for municipalities, military bases and other community groups. If you find a modular system that does not provide all of the essential ingredients, keep looking until your find the right one that does offer a complete recipe for success.
As with any important purchase, it is always better to look for a company that specializes in what you want to purchase. Skater-owned and -operated companies will be the most capable of taking the many options available in a good modular system and configuring them in a way that will provide the most enjoyment for end users.