Skate park victim of hard times

Plans for a skate park on the south end of the Pagosa Springs sports complex appear to be no more than a pipe dream — or a half-pipe dream — due to cuts to the town’s capital improvement budget.

Faced with uncertain fortune and diminishing tax revenues, town officials met last week to confront cold, hard realities of the 2009 budget, stripping the capital improvement budget down to a single, bare bone: the Town Park pedestrian bridge. Given budgetary restrictions, other projects were either postponed indefinitely or scrapped altogether. Although not killed outright, the skate park was not given the green light as a 2009 project.

Outgoing assistant town manager Tamra Allen said, “Council chose to commit to the Town Park bridge as the only major capital improvement project budgeted for 2009, withholding funds for other projects.”

Allen added, “If we see improved revenues over the next year, council could amend its budget to include other capital improvement priorities. Unfortunately,” Allen said, “The town was faced with some tough financial choices.”

Town Parks and Recreation director Tom Carosello said that funds were not there for a skate park, “The town had to trim $800,000 from the capital improvements budget and a skate park was just not a priority, as much as I hate to say it.”

Carosello has worked closely with the Skaters Coalition for Concrete (SCC), a grassroots group that has spearheaded the skate park project. Over the past several years, the SCC has raised more than $20,000 through private donations and at various fund-raising events. Both Carosello and the SCC had hoped to gather enough money to qualify for a GOCO (Great Outdoors Colorado) grant and have enough funds to complete the project.

Although no town official could verify that a formal agreement had been reached regarding town matching funds for the park, former town manager Mark Garcia said, “When the skate park started, Jonathan King said he could build it for about $100,000 and I said that if he could raise $10,000, the town would match that to qualify for an eighty-twenty GOCO grant. I don’t know if those conversations made it into the minutes of a parks and rec meeting, but I know it was discussed.”

Without town backing, the project appears stillborn. However, given the varied techniques used in skinning a cat, neither Carosello nor the SCC have abandoned ship, much less stepped off the deck.

“I’m not giving up on it,” said Carosello. “If the county comes up with some funding and with the Springs Resort’s match, the project can still probably get the GOCO match.”

Carosello added that “Engineering and construction documents are ninety-percent complete,” and that, short of finding funding, the skate park is nearly ready to go forward.

As reported in the Nov. 6 SUN, The Springs Resort and Spa offered up a $50,000 matching grant for the skate park project.

Former town special projects director Julie Simmons, point person during the infancy of the project (and still working with the SCC) is in accord with Carosello’s optimism, “I think we’re there,” she said. “ With the money the SCC has raised — about $22,000 at this point, I think — and if you throw in the $18,000 the town put up for the park’s design along with the donated property, we can probably show due diligence for the GOCO grant.”

Although Simmons doesn’t agree the project would require funding from the county, she was certain the county had previously considered a skate park as part of the regional parks master plan. “It would make sense that the county would fund it,” she said.

However, with county Conservation Trust Fund and 1A monies apparently tapped for a proposed arena/multi-use facility, the SCC would most likely need to look for funding sources other than county coffers.

“That doesn’t make sense to me,” Simmons said, “If you look at the regional parks master plan, the skate park was in there, the community prioritized that. We saw that documented in that award-winning plan.”

Not dead yet, the skate park project continues to be the focus of local officials, kids, and parents alike. Its future remains a part of a larger controversy regarding the economics of the region and how local government decides its priorities in funding projects with limited means and larger community support.

jim@pagosasun.com