Marion Skatepark in Marion, Ark.
By Heather Hanson-Motzko
arion is a vibrant, growing town of 11,000 people located in eastern Arkansas, just across the bridge from Memphis, Tenn. Andy Rawls, the city's parks director, oversees 11 city parks and a 100-acre sports and recreation complex that has five ball fields, a large playground and a pavilion.
Shortly after he joined the city staff in 2004, Rawls noticed a growing number of skateboarders using various locations around the town to practice their sport, and he became increasingly concerned that they had no dedicated skatepark.
"The old adage is if you don't have a skatepark, the city itself becomes a skatepark," Rawls said. "That was clearly happening to Marion. Many of the businesses in town were starting to complain, and we saw that the skateboarders were also using the school property on a regular basis. So I started doing a little bit of investigating and looking at the different skatepark companies to see what would best fit our needs. We also began considering different locations for the skatepark."
The more Rawls talked to other communities with skateparks, the more he came to realize that location was key. The skatepark had to be easily accessible for the skaters, and very visible from nearby roadways.
"We looked at several locations that were a little too remote, but ultimately reached an agreement with the school to build the skatepark on a piece of ground that the high school actually owns," Rawls said. "It is a corner lot and there are people driving by it all the time, so it seemed to make a lot of sense."
Marion residents had decided to refinance the bond issue that the city had previously used to do other park improvements, giving Rawls nearly $1.2 million dollars for park improvements, including the skatepark. Now that he had a site and a budget of $200,000, Rawls set his sights on selecting a supplier.
"We pretty much knew from the get-go that we wanted a skatepark of modular construction so we could periodically reconfigure it to give the skaters a fresh experience," Rawls said. "I began visiting several modular skateparks and talking with other park directors. In one case I toured a skatepark that was just one year old and I was shocked at the condition of it. It was falling apart. I knew that the durability and serviceability of our skatepark had to be excellent, and I was not interested in buying the cheapest product only to have problems with it in just a year or two. We wanted to select a vendor with a great product and superior service, and when our skatepark committee and our skaters took a look at our two final design proposals they selected Skatewave. From a durability and quality standpoint it was far ahead of the competition."
Rawls also invited the area skaters to look over the skatepark design and suggest ways to improve it. He was very surprised that several of their suggestions were adopted. "We asked them what type of setup they wanted for their park, and we sat down with the kids, our committee and our Skatewave rep and finalized the design of the park," Rawls said. "Everyone had a chance to give their point of view, and this gave the skaters a greater sense of ownership."