by Paul Rignell
Elk River parks commissioners have not yet advised the city to tear down the skateboard park that has been in use at Lions Park since 2004. They did agree this week, however, to prohibit further use of the equipment this winter while they meet with area youth and other interested residents in the next two months to consider options for restoring the ramps, curves and ledges there.
City staff in charge of maintaining the equipment reported that enough surface panels have needed replacement through the years, either resulting from normal wear or sometimes vandalism, that many of the corners and seams can no longer be fastened cleanly for smooth riding.
Park Planner Chris Leeseberg, at the parks and recreation commission’s monthly meeting Wednesday, Jan. 9, shared some research on estimated costs for repair or replacement. A full resurfacing may cost $9,500, but that would not address holes in the wood substructure which have come from frequent re-fastening of panels.
Leeseberg said a rebuild of all curves and ramps might cost $60,000, while replacing all components would raise the total to $88,000.
He said a new steel park could cost $100,000 for installation, while relocation and a new design likely would push a price tag over $200,000.
Parks and Recreation Director Michael Hecker noted the estimates are unlikely to drop in future seasons. Leeseberg said the full project cost $53,000 in 2004.
The city staff wants to find a sustainable solution with its park users. “We obviously do not want to take things away,” said Leeseberg. “It (would be) a last resort.”
With council chambers filled to standing room only, and the crowd comprised mostly of teens and pre-teens, no one showed to speak against a skate park. Many spoke of their fellow park users as family, with brothers and sisters in the sport coming regularly from Rogers and Anoka, said the youth who were brave enough to address the adult commissioners.
Camden Sawyer, 19, came with the most knowledge and research among those guests who stepped to the podium. He asked city staff to forget any thought of a steel ramp. Big Lake has one, he said, and that is why many youth from there come to Elk River. “It’s not something we want to skate on,” he said. “It’s slippery.”
He also spoke with emotion for the park community. “It really does mean a lot to a lot of people,” Sawyer said, adding that he has met skaters in their 30s and 40s there. “It’s family there. It’s fun helping little kids learn how to skate.”
He said they would stay active in the city with or without a park, and that they travel in groups, sometimes finding 30 to 40 people on the equipment. “Sometimes the skate park gets so full, you can’t even stand on the ramps,” Sawyer said.
As for any vandalism, the skaters in council chambers vowed they are not to blame but rather there are loiterers without skateboards causing that damage.
Park user Cameron Barringer, 15, said a new site to reduce the possibility of damage could be near either the library or police department on Orono Parkway.
Tom Sawyer, Camden’s father, said he fully supports a city skate park for recreation by his son and other youth, and asked whether instituting a user fee could help Elk River recoup any costs.
“That is an issue, to charge,” said Hecker. “If we start charging something, our liability becomes greater and (so would) the expectations. It really is best to keep the skate park open to the general public.”
He said it is a safe activity. “There is a risk involved, which I think is why skaters like skating,” Hecker said, but adding there is no more danger than in football or some other sports.
Commissioner Dave Kallemeyn said he was impressed by the number of park users who had gathered for their meeting. “We have had a greater outpouring of interest for this skate park than I would have thought,” he said.
He asked and found that many in the crowd would be willing to raise funds and participate in volunteer labor for park repair or replacement as needed. The youth of 2004 were involved in park design and fund-raising then.
Mayor and council liaison John Dietz encouraged the commission Jan. 9 to involve someone who is experienced in skate park construction as they study options over the next several weeks.
“Choose a reputable one to be involved in these discussions,” Dietz said. “I still think it would behoove us to have someone involved that does this for their livelihood.”