Guest Column - April 2003
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Building a Skate Park

Addressing the early concerns

By Anne-Marie Spencer

Riverhead Skate Park in Riverhead, N.Y.

With currently more than 16 million skateboarders in the United States, skateboarding is the fastest growing sport among youth today. As a result, skate parks have been popping up around the country.

Simply put, skateboarding provides kids with a challenging recreational sport. It offers opportunities to develop skills and friendships and encourages athletic activity for a demographic lured by television and video games. And though many facilities, parks and municipalities are interested in building skate parks, it's hard to know where to start if you are unfamiliar with the sport. For those jumping into the process, addressing the following issues will help avoid mistakes that can affect your park's success.

Involve the community. Community pride is one of the best ways to raise funds, awareness and support for your project. Invite the public to an initial planning session and use the meeting to find out their concerns, as well as meet the kids that will use your park. Gather information in advance to help address the concerns that may arise.

For example, in parks located near a neighborhood, noise levels may be an issue. You can decide in advance if you will allow music or boom boxes, then set rules and insist they are followed. In regards to the skate surface itself, ask manufacturers for noise study data when shopping for your equipment (many have this type of information available) then compare the results; some surface provide a quieter ride than others. By addressing community concerns early, you can avoid potential problems later, while gaining their trust and support.

Don't exclude anyone. A well-designed park should be appealing to everyone. There is a variety of equipment that will be used at the park, including skateboards, BMX bikes and inline skates. With proper planning, your park can accommodate them all. It should be a goal to provide a skate park that will provide an exciting experience for skaters of all levels, from novice to advanced. Elements and obstacles for beginners should be located in one area of the park, away from larger obstacles designed for intermediate or advanced users. Keeping these beginner elements near the entrance of your park is a good way to reduce conflicts between skill levels and makes a nice warm-up area for kids wanting to use the more advanced equipment. A mix of vert ramps, obstacles and rails should be installed to offer a well-rounded skating experience.

Consult an expert. Skate parks are different than most sports facilities when it comes to layout. There are set rules and regulations that govern the layout of basketball courts and football fields, but when it comes to skate parks, how do you decide where to place the components?

Well-made components should offer a smooth
transition from surface to surface.

If there's anything to be learned about skate parks, it is that design is the key. The directional flow of a skate facility is as important as the selection of components in it. In order for a park to be successful, kids must be able to transition from one apparatus to another with out a lot of pushing (using their foot to propel along). A poorly designed park will result in low interest or use. When researching companies to design your park, find out if they have experience and ask about their commitment to your park. Will their involvement end when you receive the boxes of components that need to be unpacked and installed or will they be there from initial consultations through design and installation?

Many customers are choosing manufacturers who offer a design/build process to facilitate the construction of parks. The advantage here is that the manufacturer can offer the entire package, including experienced designers, manufacturing, installation and support. Get references from the company you consider. Ask about warranties, liability insurance and how the equipment performs in the climate you live in. Some surfaces, such as steel, can be affected by changes in temperature and humidity.

Build it to last. Strength of equipment is crucial. Like other choices you make for your facility, you should choose the best equipment available to reduce maintenance and replacement costs later. Skate parks require a substantial investment, and you should expect it to last for years.

For example, steel grind strips, coping and transition plates can provide the toughest resistance to the skate equipment. In modular systems, look for adjustable base plates on components that will adjust to variances in the terrain. Welded framework will withstand flexing better than bolted frames and therefore may require less maintenance.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Facilities that attempt to build a temporary or inexpensive park are taking on a huge riskā€”it is critical that you use the highest standards to prevent defects that can prove dangerous to the park's patrons. It might be beneficial to consider a phase-built project, when the overall plan is not attainable, but elements can be added as budgetary funds become available. Remember: The best skate parks are not about size but are about design and overall construction. Skaters will travel great distances to skate at a well-laid out park.

The enclosure under this quarter pipe prevents
debris or animals from gaining access and also
eliminates the possibility of kids under the

Plan your maintenance. The type of equipment you choose will create a basis for the maintenance plan you'll need to adopt. Wood parks are prone to rot from weather and damage from equipment. Steel, if not galvanized, can rust. Painted steel surfaces have difficulty standing up to heavy daily use and can peel, chip or crack. Concrete can easily be chipped and damaged; just look at the city sidewalks and curbs that kids skate on for proof.

The best way to keep your maintenance schedule to a manageable level is to buy the right equipment. Look for long-lasting, solid understructures, substrates and a tough but replaceable surface material. Surfaces that need to be constantly painted will drive up your maintenance costs. Deferred maintenance will result in increased liability. A well-documented and rigorously attended maintenance structure is your best protection from liability and costly replacement.

Consider supervision. Some state laws define skating and related sports as "hazardous activities" and prohibit claims against public entities for personal injuries that result from these activities. Other laws require that skate parks be unsupervised to avoid liability, as in California. However, many cities and facilities are taking the position that supervision offers better opportunities to avoid injuries or problems.

According to information from the National Consumer Product Safety Commission, skateboarders are less likely to require emergency medical care than participants of more traditional sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer and volleyball. Supervision offers a double benefit. The activities at your park can be observed, problems can be addressed as they happen, and those demonstrating irresponsible behavior can be removed immediately. Secondly, those using a park that is supervised are less likely to cause problems. Park supervisors should be diligent about requiring waivers and proper protective gear and then monitor that this gear is being worn by park users. Supervised parks can also receive more support from the community; often community members feel supervision will prevent an adverse effect on their neighborhood. A nominal admission fee can help pay for the costs associated with supervision and maintenance. You might also consider offering classes, events, competitions and other events to raise money.

Anne-Marie Spencer is the marketing communications manager for GameTime. For more information, or to order a free copy of "Skatepark issues and guidelines," contact her at