Feature Article - February 2009
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Grind Into Action

Getting Your Skatepark Rolling

By Sue Marquette Poremba

A Skatepark Emerges

An emerging concept is the hybrid park, which typically marries the transition-style skateboarding of the concrete bowls and ramps with the street-style skating associated with obstacles like railings, benches and more.

"This bridges the gap between steel and concrete parks and includes aspects of both," Patnaude said. "The park could be the result of a phase. You could start with an existing pad with some steel ramps and add a concrete bowl later. That would be considered a hybrid. Or you could have an integrated approach with some steel structures or some concrete structures. Then you can decide what pieces make the most sense to be made from steel and what make most sense to be made from concrete."

Many communities decide to build their parks in phases, often depending on fund-raising efforts. In Shelbyville, for example, Dial said its park has a total of 17 planned phases. By the time it gets to phase 14, the square footage of the original park will have doubled, and eventually the plan is to include inline hockey opportunities.

There are benefits to building the park in phases. One is budget. Because building a skatepark is not an inexpensive endeavor, phasing allows the park to be built as finances allow. Another benefit is the ability for the park to adapt to the skills of the users. As the skateboarders become more practiced, more advanced ramps and equipment can be added while not taking away anything from the beginners.

"It is a trend for cities to build these parks in phases," Harrell said. "Maybe a modular steel park is a place to get started, and it's that first phase that gets kids out there skating. Then phase two comes in that is bigger or an out-of-the-box design."

Some cities, Harrell added, build skateparks that are destination parks, which are meant to attract skaters from other areas. Other cities only want to serve their immediate community. "Again, it goes back to those first committee meanings, where this is decided."

Another thing cities are doing is, rather than building full-sized skateparks, they are building skate spots around the city. It could be a bench with angle iron on it, for example.

Parks can be designed for all levels of participation. "You have to cater to every type of user," Harrell said.

To accommodate beginners, areas of the park should have obstacles more spread out to allow the skateboarders to learn the tricks. More advanced skateboarders want bigger elements. And even the advanced skaters often like having access to the beginners' area, particularly when they are learning a new trick.

"It's more than just beginner versus advanced," Harrell continued. "There are different styles of skateboarding. There's street skating. There's obstacle skating that uses things like benches and stairs. And there is skating that uses the half-pipes and bowls."

The good news is that more advanced skateboarders are usually accommodating to those who are less experienced. You might even want to tap their talent to lead lessons for beginners. After all, parks commonly provide programming for other popular sports. Why not skating?

"There is a culture among skaters," McConkey said. "The advanced skaters help and support the new skaters, and give them the time and space. They recognize that they were once at that stage."

Roll On

After the park is constructed, maintenance is an ongoing expense.

"Maintenance is determined by the building method," Moss said. "For the all-steel, the only maintenance is recoating or repainting." If the finish is not cared for, the exposed steel can rust. "As long as it's painted, it is prefabricated and bolted together. It has tamper-resistant bolts with lock-tight nuts, which keeps everything tight. So there is little for the city to maintain. It's why steel is so popular with cities."

The wood parks, on the other hand, do require more maintenance. "Any time you take a screw and screw down a sheet into two-by-four, every time a skateboard hits that, it will flex some," Moss explained. "What that does is cause the screw to work out, and it doesn't have to work out very far to be a riding hazard." So, a city relying on wood needs to send a maintenance worker to check for screws above the riding surface and other issues on a weekly basis.

Other maintenance issues include the skating surface sheets themselves. "Skatelite Pro or Ramp Armor is a paper-based product," Moss says. "It is big sheets of paper baked in phenolic resin and pressed together. It makes for a good skating surface, but as it weathers, it will absorb water and there will be thermal expansion. It can warp or flake, and in time, the surface will eventually wear out."

Replacing the sheets can be costly, Moss said. It can cost a quarter of the original price of the skatepark to totally resheet the surface (this compared to a 1 percent cost to repaint the surface).

"It's a significant maintenance cost," he said, "and customers need to know that the building options with the coated surface will need to be replaced at some point. It likely won't need to be replaced all at once, however. And it will wear out quicker in climates with extreme changes in temperature and harsher weather."

Concrete requires little maintenance, but Moss did point out that the concrete can chip, and that needs to be monitored.

McConkey said his company provides very clear instruction to clients regarding regular, routine maintenance.

"It's preventive maintenance," McConkey said. "There's an annual inspection to make sure all the fasteners are secure. Check to see if there is anything on the skating surface that might cause problems, and power wash the surface. If there has been any kind of corrosion on the skating surface, that needs to be addressed. After all, steel will rust."

The annual inspection should also include checking the pad underneath the park to make sure it is not deteriorating. "Anything that is going to affect the safety of the skaters needs to be checked. That's the number-one criteria," McConkey said.

From an owner's perspective, McConkey added, a challenge is to schedule the time and budget for going out to maintain the parks. "That's where the city really gets strapped," he said. "We see it on playgrounds, as well. The routine maintenance falls to the bottom of the priority list." For that reason, it behooves the city to have a park and structures of the highest quality materials. "Unfortunately, lack of maintenance is the most cited cause of accidents or injuries in a park," McConkey explained.

It seems like some city park directors think that once they build the skatepark, they can walk away from it, Patnaude added. But a skatepark is like any other amenity—it requires maintenance. "The baseball diamond needs to be watered and the lawn mowed," he said. "The city needs to look at the skatepark in the same way, as something that needs inspections and maintenance at various times."