Feature Article - January/February 2002
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Rolling Ahead

New skate parks and inline facilities learn from past mistakes

By Stacy St. Clair

Berendo Middle School Skate Park, like more
and more skate facilities, has received a lot of
community support.

Just don't be surprised if they come back quickly. Some committees have been known to secure to monetary goal in just a few months.

Of course, we're dealing with a completely different economy today than we were when many parks and rinks were built in the late 1990s. Many communities are considering semi-private ventures in which the taxing body donates the land and building costs, then an outside business operates it.

This has been a successful venture in many areas, saving cities money on insurance and staffing.

A joint venture, however, means the skaters are most likely going to pay to use the park. Some facilities charge as little as $1 per day, which may seem reasonable for an adult. But young skaters, especially ones in less affluent areas, often argue it's difficult for a 12-year-old to scrape up $30 each month.

The Skate Park Association pushes for free parks, even if it means they aren't staffed. With only half of the 700 parks nationwide as public facilities, kids are in desperate need for an affordable place to skate.

If communities must charge for their main park, Lemmon suggests building smaller satellite parks that can be used at no cost. The smaller parks can have just a couple features, maybe a ramp or some rails, to satisfy—and whet—the appetite of hungry skaters. When they yearn for something fancier, they can pay the extra money to go the larger park.

This inliner demonstrates her
toe-grab move on a quarterpipe/
box/wedge combination.
From skateboarders to inline
hockey players, the demand
is high for quality skate
parks and rinks.

"This will get the kids interest piqued," she says. "You could put different things at each park, which would encourage kids to go to different parks and meet different skaters."

Without a semi-private venture, cities must lean more heavily on their ad-hoc committee to secure the necessary money. But grassroots organizations are going to need help, and there's one thing cities and park district can do better than a normal citizen: write grants.

There are millions of dollars, both private and public, waiting for communities to claim. Tony Hawk, for example, has said his foundation selects its recipients based on grants that catch the directors' eyes and make the project seem appealing.

Every government agency has someone on staff who knows his or her way around a grant application. Employ their help or ask the local school district for assistance, even if its only connection to the project will be its students skating there after classes. School systems have a plethora of experience in applying for playground and child recreation grants and may be best suited to write the skate park proposal.

"There's money out there if you look for it," Lemmon says.

An increasing popular place to look is the local police station. Law enforcement agencies from Windham, Maine, to Compton, Calif., have helped build skate parks in their communities.

In Los Angeles, the officers helped raise the money to build facilities at local high schools. They supervise the facilities after classes are dismissed, giving them a chance to meet the teens and have positive interactions with them. The venture has proven so successful there are plans 18 more inner-city parks in the coming year.

"The kids are just loving it," says Lemmon, whose association helped with the project. "It's a great way to get rid of problems between the police and teens."

A police officer in Windham sought grant money to build a park after spending too much time in the summer busting kids for skating in the business district. Many of them were unrepentant repeat offenders who told community service officer they "just wanted to skate."

The officer won a modest grant in 1999 and built a temporary park in the high-school parking lot. In the first five weeks of operation, more than 1,800 visitors used the facility. The overwhelming response caught the city council's attention and officials gave Officer Matt Cyr the money and land to build a permanent site.

Building a park, however, was a gamble for a small Maine town because skating is still a relative new sport in New England. The risk, though, more than paid off. The new facility, conveniently located next to the police station, opened in 2000. More than 7,000 kids, many of whom live in neighboring communities, used the park from this past season, an impressive number given the town's total population of 15,000.

Even more important, the town's juvenile crime rate has dropped 36 percent since the park opened. Drug arrests have gone down an eye-popping 75 percent.

"The more positive alternatives you give the kids, the less apt they are to break the law," Cyr says.

Cyr credits the park's "zero-tolerance" policy for the plummeting crime rates. Kids who do drugs, swear, bully, fight or vandalize the park receive a lifetime ban. Only 15 kids have been expelled in the past three seasons, most of them from different towns. The skaters—some of whom report peers to police officers when the see something illegal going on—follow the rules because they don't want to risk losing the park.

Besides, with the police department next door, it behooves everyone to be model citizens. At any given moment, an officer might drop by just to say hello.

"I think it's the best thing since sliced bread," says Cyr, who visits the park three to four times per week. "I wish more police officers would support this because it's such a great thing."

But if you don't build it—or build it poorly—local skaters will try to find their happy ending elsewhere. Their interpretation, however, could be a community horror story.

"When you build a really crappy park," Lemmon says, "words gets around. If they can find a (street) curb, they'll do that before skate a bad park."