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Considerations for Building a Public Park

Here are some things to think about when constructing and operating a skatepark. Some points and suggestions are specifically for public skateparks, though they may also prove useful for privately owned skateparks.

In the design phase:

Consider building your park near the following:

Electrical lines - You may want to install lights for night-skating or have power to run vending machines or even a concession stand.

Water pipes: Don't forget that your skaters and bikers will get dehydrated, so you may want to install drinking fountains. If you have the budget, a rest-room is also a good idea.

Pay Phone: Installing a pay phone is must. Kids may want to call their parents for rides, but most importantly, it can be used for emergencies.

Trash receptacles are necessary if you don't want trash strewn all over the skating course. However, as most trash cans are portable, skaters WILL move the cans and try to skate them. Keep this in mind - "Anything that can be moved by a skater, will be moved." This goes for trash cans, benches, posts and anything temporary found in or near the skating area. This is congruous with the street-skating mentality, so instead of fighting it, try to adapt and work around it. Since you probably won't want to continually replace the trash cans, consider sturdier cans that can be bolted or cemented to the ground.

Lighting is obviously an important element in keeping the park open after dark. You may want to consider installing lights in your park to extend your hours of use. Since parents frequently don't get off work until 5:00, kids that are dropped off often don't have the opportunity to skate at a skatepark until after 5:30PM. You also want to install proper lights, which can be expensive. If the lamps are not bright enough, they will cast shadows and make the course difficult to navigate. Skatepark architects recommend 30 foot lights, which in total, can cost as much as $60,000. Without lighting, skaters have been found at night utilizing everything from flashlights, Coleman lamps, to maneuvering their cars so their headlights shine on the skatepark - and this can be dangerous.

Viewing Area: You may have already noticed that people enjoy watching skaters and bikers in a skatepark, so you may want to set aside a viewing area. The viewing area must be detached from the park, and have either a fence or a large space between the skating and viewing section. You can either have a grassy area for people to sit on, or benches. But be warned, unless the benches are properly secured to the ground, skaters will find a way to move and skate them. Special note: If you want to install bleachers, there are new laws and regulations concerning the height and type of bleacher that can be used. So check with your skatepark architect and bleacher companies to find out what type of bleacher will meet present safety regulations.

Fencing: Appropriate fencing is a good idea, though not for the reasons you may be thinking. Fences rarely keep out skaters, and chances are they will merely jump the fence to ride in your park. On the other hand, fences keep the skateboards and bikes from flying out of the skating area and hitting bystanders. They also keep small children and animals from entering the skating area.

Additional Points: Don't build your park too close to irrigation, as water can leak or spill into the park and make the skating surface slippery. Your skatepark designer should know the proper distance from irrigation to build a cement park

During construction:

Concrete: make sure you use proper cement. Certain types of cement provide a more conducive skate surface. Using the wrong type of cement, in the worst case scenario, may require a complete demolition of the park and force you to build it again. You should use only qualified skatepark designers and builders who have experience with cement parks. There is also a way to color the cement, which can liven up the skate area.

Curing: It is VERY important that the cement is cured properly. If the appropriate amount of time for curing is not established, then stress cracks can appear and ruin the park. Since your local skaters will be dying to try out the new park, you should consider hiring guards or staff to watch the park at all hours to insure that no one skates the park prematurely.

Wood and Metal: There are specific materials that should be used for building a wood or metal park that make it safe and enjoyable to ride. Your skatepark architect should know what materials work the best. For instance, certain wood lasts longer under pressure, and certain joints hold ramps together better. The way the park is constructed is important, as joints and bolts put in the wrong place can make the ramp weak and create gaps that will hinder the skateboard wheels.

When an architect designs a park, he takes on the liability for design flaws. Because of this, it is recommended that you give the architect some freedom in the design of the park. If you want to make changes to the park later on, even if it is very a small alteration (perhaps it is just a new bracket or bolt), check with the architect and have him sign off on it. Otherwise, you can be held responsible and liable for any injuries incurred near this modification.

Once the park is opened: If you do not want graffiti in your park, consider a "Zero Tolerance" policy towards graffiti. If you discover graffiti, you should remove it as quickly as possible (within 24 hours). The last thing a tagger wants, is to have his graffiti removed before anyone has a chance to see it. Some skatepark operators suggest closing the park down until the graffiti is removed. This option is up to you, but you should do whatever it takes to remove the graffiti promptly.

Bad ways to remove graffiti: Sandblasting may remove the graffiti, but it also removes some of the cement. This can make the surface rough and unskatable.

Water blasting can also remove some of the cement, though it is not as destructive. If other methods of removal fail, this can be used as a last resort.

Good ways to remove graffiti: There are some great Spray-On brands that remove graffiti without damaging the surface. One brand is Graffiti-X. I have heard of some others - check with your local hardware store for more brands of spray removal.

PS: Don't use any non-stick anti-graffiti treatment that you paint on the surface. This will create a smooth or sticky surface for skaters and will require a complete removal of the paint. Big hassle!

Remember, both the skaters and the community will be looking at how you maintain your skatepark. If your park is clean and well operated, the skaters will have more respect for you and the community will appreciate what you are doing. If you take a while to remove graffiti, clean trash, and fix broken ramps, skaters will generally have less respect for your park and therefore be more prone to trashing the park and ignoring safety rules.

Staffed/Non-Staffed Park
You will have to decide whether to have your park staffed or un-staffed. Though a staffed park is recommended for safety reasons, it may incur more liability for the park. The worst liability is having a park that is staffed only part of the time. In a law suit, it will be questioned why staff wasn't present during a certain injury or problem, to which an appropriate answer will be difficult. It is understandable, however, that full time staffing for a skatepark can be expensive, but skaters will learn when the part-time staff is not present, and when they can be lax on the safety rules.

Additional Police Support
If you are a public park, and this may even apply to private parks, you may want the police department to help support you. It is recommended that you develop a relationship with the police department in the early stages of the design phase. If you begin talking with them in the late construction phase, they may be overwhelmed and offer little help. The police can patrol the park during both the hours of operation and off-hours. They can also develop a personal relationship with the skaters.

As a skatepark operator, it is highly recommended that you and your staff develop a relationship with your skaters and bikers. The more they see and understand what you are doing, the more they will respect your safety guidelines. As you probably have discovered, most skaters and bikers are great kids, and want adults to view them with some respect. And when they get this respect, you will be surprised at how much respect they give back.

It is also a good idea to give the park some energy by hosting special events, such as demos, classes, and DJ's. These events can be cheap and fun, and keep the park looking active. It also shows the skaters that you want to be involved.

Loaner Safety Gear
Just as many sports programs with the parks and recreations have loaner safety gear, see if you can budget in loaner knee, wrist, and elbow pads, as well as safety helmets. Extra skateboards are also a good idea, as kids break their own boards and can't afford new ones.

Safety Regulations
Clearly post the rules for using the park and enforce the safety standards regularly. You may want to cite people who are riding or skating without proper safety gear or endangering others. If you are a city, you may be required by the city ordinance to cite offenders. You may also want to post a sign that says, "No Skating in Wet Weather."

This is one most important, yet frequently overlooked, features of running a successful skatepark. One city recommended budgeting $8000 a year in maintenance costs, though they frequently spent less on repairs. If something needs repairs, the quicker you can fix it, the better and safer your park will be.

Maintenance Schedules
It is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you have a regular maintenance schedule. This can be a weekly or daily schedule, and it just requires you to check and report any problems you may see in the park. Also, document when you make the repairs or add new equipment. If someone were to take you to court, you would need to show proof of a maintenance schedule, so this becomes a very important liability issue.

You can hire some local skaters or use your present staff to clean the trash and tidy up the park. A well-maintained park reflects very well on its operators. The community will respect what we are trying to accomplish - that is a safe, fun environment for kids and young adults.

I hope you can find some useful information within these points. While this information is directed towards public parks, it can certainly be useful for private skateparks. If you need any more information, please feel free to contact us at (310) 453-7855.

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