By Becky Mickel
Asa Cohen, a Rockbridge County High School junior, says skateboarding is one of those things you never stop enjoying.
Cohen spends a lot of time playing lacrosse for his school, but he spends even more time skateboarding, and he is determined to get the Lexington skateboard park on Wallace Street re-opened.
City Manager Jon Ellestad and the Lexington Public Works department closed the park in November. They were concerned that exposed nails, warped wood and damaged ramps and half-pipes were unsafe for skateboarders. The city pays only for minor maintenance of the park, like picking up trash and eliminating graffiti.
City Council Member Mary Harvey-Halseth, who has used a skateboard herself on occasion, has taken up the park as a cause. But money for a new park is tight, and a full-blown facility would probably cost between $100,000 and $200,000.
Harvey-Halseth thinks renovating the park, by contrast, will cost $20,000, with a possible $6,000 more to re-treat the asphalt pad that covers the ground of the skate park. Harvey-Halseth has not estimated the cost of labor because she is confident the park can find volunteers.
Louise Debatin, a Rockbridge County High School junior, shares Harvey-Halseth’s optimism.
“This is not a big town. It’s a small town with a big community,” Debatin said. “If everybody worked together, then there would be a chance.”
People from throughout the county used the skate park before it was condemned, Harvey-Halseth said. About 25 boarders skated there daily.
Harvey-Halseth first hopped on a skateboard when the park opened 14 years ago. Local skateboarders recognized her from her helmet that read “mom.”
Back then, Harvey-Halseth’s two sons and their friends needed a safe and legal space to skate. The Lexington Police Department would kick the boys off the sidewalk in front of their house, and she didn’t want the two skating behind the old Kmart building.
Harvey-Halseth took her sons and a group of skateboarders to a City Council meeting to ask for a skate park. The county gave $1,700 for construction and Lexington funded a $21,000 asphalt pad to cover the surface.
The original skate park was built with donations and volunteers. The Public Works department provided work tools and supervision. Since the skate park’s opening in 1998, $35,000 has been spent on upkeep.
Harvey-Halseth said the main push now is to raise money.
She has already applied for a $1,000 Rotary International grant. She is drafting proposals for additional grants totaling $3,000, and applying for money from the Tony Hawk Foundation.
Lexington City Council member Marilyn Alexander is helping to draft grant proposals. Alexander is on the skate park committee with Harvey-Halseth, Ellestad, Public Works Director Michael Kennedy, Public Works Superintendent John Smith and local skateboarders.
If the committee raises $2,500, City Council will allocate $5,000 to skate park improvements, Harvey-Halseth said. Additional money would be raised through private donations and county-wide fundraising.
Leila Taylor’s older brothers skateboarded at the park years ago before it was in disrepair.
Taylor, a Rockbridge County High School senior, hopes to see the community come together to renovate the facility.
“It doesn’t have to just be money,” Taylor said. “It could be something that brings the whole community together.”
Smith said the skate park needs materials with at least a 10-year life span and better durability, such as Skatelite Pro, because the park has no long-term funding.
Skatelite Pro is a layering material that goes on ramps and can last up to 20 years, Harvey-Halseth said. Smith said it is safer for boarders than asphalt because their skateboards can better grip the ramps.
The original park was covered with asphalt because it is cheaper than materials like Skatelite Pro, which will cost $10,000.
But Cohen said the best skate parks are covered in concrete.
He and his friends drive to concrete skate parks in Staunton, Charlottesville, Blacksburg and Lynchburg on Saturdays to let off a week’s worth of steam.
Lexington’s run-down skate park “handicaps younger kids,” who can’t drive themselves to a city where skateboarding is legal, he said.
Cohen has skateboarded for almost six years. He used to walk to the skate park from nearby Maury River Middle School. He said bikers, including BMX bikers, also used the skate park.
Lexington Public Works employees visited Staunton’s skate park last week to meet with the park’s athletic director and to see what a functional skate park looks like.
Lexington City Council has considered tearing down the skate park and replacing it with tennis courts if the skate park does not reopen, Harvey-Halseth said.
Since the skate park closed, two ramps have already been trashed and the rest need to be repaired, shortened or just rebuilt, she said. Fundraising success will determine what the new park looks like.
Public Works Superintendent Smith said the park would be built for beginner, intermediate and advanced skateboarders.
“Whether it’s a $10,000 park or a $50,000 park, we want it to be safe,” he said.
Smith said the park will be about half its original size when it re-opens, because skaters prefer a smaller skate park with ramps closer together.
Harvey-Halseth is feeling a time crunch.
“The pressure is on now,” she said. “I want those kids in there skateboarding by the end of March.”