by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Park and Recreation Commission is on the verge of approving a plan to tear down the skateboard park at Lions Park.
The amenity was constructed in 2004 and has been a maintenance headache ever since, according to Chris Leeseburg, a park planner.
“It’s not because it has been an extra job to do,” Leeseburg said.
Rather the facility was poorly constructed and has required constant repair. Among the maladies of the skate park have been cracks, flaking and peeling, and most troublesome has been the constant need to refasten the unit’s panels that created trip hazards. An already dangerous sport is even more dangerous given the condition of the unit.
“The (wooden) substructure deteriorated from all the refastening,” Leesburg said, noting there’s nothing for the screws to hold onto anymore.
Adding to the maintenance headaches have been skate park vandalism, graffiti and police calls. City staff presented commission members two basic courses of action.
The first is to remove the skate park, and the second is to initiate a major funding effort to rebuild a more sustainable skate park.
A new skate park could cost between $200,000 to $250,000 if it is going to be a longer-lasting facility made of concrete rather than a wood frame, according to park and recreation director Michael Hecker.
This comes at a time when the Commission and the City are pulling away from parks that get little use and re-focusing on priorities.
On Jan. 9, the Parks and Recreation Commission will discuss new playground concepts for Orono Park at a work session following their regular commission meeting or at 7:30 p.m., whichever is later.
The existing structure is over 25 years old and due to its deterioration from age, increased safety concerns, and growing costs to repair the structure the City Council approved a $250,000 budget for a replacement destination playground.
The work session is open to the public. City staff encourages residents to attend to provide feedback on the designs and give their input on what they would like to see the playground offer.
Commission members concluded last month they have no choice but to remove the skate park given its condition and resulting safety concerns. They agreed that the time to look at whether a new skate park would be in the realm of possibility would have to come later. It’s not currently in the city’s park plan, and no one on the commission seemed too excited about the notion of footing such a large bill for something that benefits a small number of people.
That being said, Hecker recognized it will be a blow for some youth.
“There are a lot of youth out there that use it,” he said. “It will be difficult for it to disappear.”
The matter will come back before the commission at its Jan. 9 meeting. The regular meeting will be a chance to further discuss the issues of the skate park and the recommendations to take it down for safety reasons, Hecker told the Star News.
Park commissioners expressed a desire to reach out to skate boarders, but they know it’s not easy.
“The problem with (inviting this) user group is it’s not a group,” said commission Chairman Dave Anderson. “It’s a collection of individuals. It would be nice to talk to a cross section of the users.”
Anderson said the skate park as it is will not be sustainable.
Elk River Mayor John Dietz, a liaison from the council to the park commission, also weighed in, saying it’s important to recognize there’s only so much money and it comes down to priorities. He advocated spending resources on things that benefit the most people for the least money.
“We have to be realistic,” he said. “I would much rather build a football field that will benefit 400 youth every week than a skate park.
“I wouldn’t be willing to promise skateboarders a skate park in the next year or two, based on the cost alone and the number of participants that use (a skate park).”