Thursday, January 19, 2006

Newport skate park initiative is ON

My brother Eamon has sparked a move to get a new concrete skate park built on the site of some long-unused tennis courts in our home town. I've attached the story on their first meeting with the Newport City Council. Obviously, they still have a lot of work to do (this IS in the preliminary stages), but Eamon has gotten 400 people involved via a petition and gotten the, uh, wheels rolling (sorry -- I stopped short of saying "gotten 400 people on board", but it just didn't make sense to say "gotten the ball rolling"). City approval remains in question, and fundraising plans (to cover building costs, lessen city liability, etc.) are not yet finalized.

Still, I think it's a good cause, and I'm not just saying that because I gave Eamon his first board for Christmas some 18 years ago. I can't skate to save my life these days (though I did put together a cruiser deck recently...) but Eamon and many others have stuck with it, which is a testament to the fact that skateboarding isn't just "for the kids" anymore -- you don't need to see Lords of Dogtown to understand this. The kids, though, will benefit most if this project comes to pass. I can't imagine what it would have been like to have this level of support for skateboarding when I was 12; I got my first ration of shit for skating on the street from a cop within the first week of getting my first board (it was a mini-Caballero with Trackers and Powell IIs for those taking notes). The resistance to the sport still sadly exists, so continued support for outlets like skate parks remains crucial.

If you or anybody you know would like to help with this initiative, feel free to pass this blurb along.

Here's the story on the first Newport City Council meeting from today's Newport Daily News. I will post info on upcoming meetings as it becomes available. Read on:

Skateboarders try to get officials on board for park

By Sean Flynn/Daily News staff

NEWPORT - Newport skateboarders envision a modern skate park behind the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, a park with an enclosed bowl set in the ground and a street course with curbs, pipes, a pyramid and other obstacles.
Sam Batterson, owner of Breaking Ground of Providence, which specializes in the construction of poured-concrete skate parks, developed the conceptual design and presented it Wednesday night to six of seven members of the City Council. Only Mayor John J. Trifero was absent.

Councilman Charles Y. Duncan requested the workshop after Eamon Kelly, a city resident with 18 years of skating experience, collected more than 400 signatures on a petition asking for the park.
In the audience were almost 40 skateboarders who crave an easily accessible area to skate in near the downtown area. The MLK Center is on Dr. Marcus F. Wheatland Boulevard, and the skatepark would be built on a paved area that extends from Edward Street to Tilden Avenue.
The city opened a skate park at Easton's Beach in 1999 that cost $66,500 to build, but it never really caught on with the skateboarders, Kelly said.
"It's on a beach and anytime the wind is blowing, it fills with sand," he said. "The seams and cracks in the concrete are terrible."
The sand and relatively small size, 4,800 square feet, makes it difficult to skate on, he said. The seams between the concrete sections are filled with rubber, but that pulls out and wheels can get caught, he added.
"The people in the company that built it were not skateboarders," Kelly said. "They didn't know what skateboarders want."
The Easton's Beach skatepark also is difficult to get to from Newport neighborhoods, because kids have to skate down the hill of busy Memorial Boulevard to get there, or have parents drive them.
More than one skateboarder said when he skates in the street, police tell him that is not allowed. But when he skates on the sidewalk, police tell him that's not allowed either.
The city youth told council members that the Easton's Beach skate park probably attracts more kids from Middletown that it does from Newport.
The new proposal seeks to improve on the existing skate park. The paved vacant area behind the MLK Center is about 6,600 square feet, and the grassy area right next to it of the same width would add an additional 2,350 square feet. That would bring the total close to 9,000 square feet.
Batterson has credibility with skateboarders for his skate park designs. He built skate parks in Jamestown and Providence that are popular.
"The comments are that the parks are pretty good, for 4-foot parks," Batterson said. That is the maximum height of the walls and ramps in those parks.
"Newport with its surfing and skateboarding history, wants to have a good park," he said. "For the kids to be happy, it should be at least six feet."
The area would be excavated, so the walls would be largely below ground level.
The problems
Batterson said his proposed park for Newport would cost about $200,000. That price could go up if drainage was a problem.
That price tag was a problem for council members.
Councilwoman Colleen A. McGrath noted that the city is facing costly water, sewer and road infrastructure upgrades and repairs in the coming years.
Susan Cooper, director of the city's Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, said for the park at Easton's Beach, Pepsi-Cola Co. donated $25,000 and the parents and skateboarders raised another $5,000, leaving the city with a balance of $36,000.
Mike Richardson, a co-owner of Anchor Bend Glassworks, said he would be willing to donate labor and "hit the streets" to do fundraising for the new project.
"It would be nice to have a spot everyone could go to," he said. "I've been skateboarding since I was young. Whenever I'm not working, I'm trying to relive my youth."
Money, however, isn't the only potential problem the council sees.
"It's a densely populated neighborhood and skate parks can get loud," said Council Vice chairwoman Jeanne-Marie Napolitano.
"I can't imagine the calls for service we would get from that area," Patrolman Kevin Parsonage told the council. "I don't think many people would like ramps 20 to 30 feet from their homes."
But the skateboarders argued they already skateboard on the pavement at that location, and neighbors have not objected.
Skateboarders also argued that it's an activity that ends at sunset.
"You can't skateboard in the dark," said one young man.
They noted that basketball games take place on the adjacent court and that the MLK Center is already the site of many other activities.
"The skate park should be central to Newport somehow," Patrick Doyle said. "That's key to us. We know land is scarce, but the MLK Center presents itself."
The lot behind the center is city-owned parkland.
City officials also are concerned about liability and insurance costs.
Napolitano said the city had to pay a higher premium to extend its insurance coverage to the skate park at Easton's Beach.
Cooper said insurance companies in the past have required walls at skate parks to be no higher than 4 feet.
"There might be less injuries at a four-foot park because it attracts less people," Batterson said. "People here want a park that is going to put Newport on the map."
Councilman Duncan said another meeting would be scheduled, with representatives of the MLK Center and residents of the neighborhood to be invited.

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