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Town Council funds scaled-back skate park

There’s good news on local recreation as the Pagosa Springs Town Council voted Tuesday night to allocate $30,000 to move forward on the construction of a skate park, while the town’s Parks and Recreation Department reported the completion of two recent capital improvement projects and the pursuit of a third, sorely-needed project.

It was the decision to push forward on a skate park, however, that found council finally breaking free from a stalemate that had frustrated the town, county and the Skaters Coalition for Concrete (SCC, the grassroots organization that has worked the past several years to raise money for a skate park), among other organizations.

Albeit scaled back significantly from original designs, the proposal to finally move forward on a skate park marked a shift by council on a project that many thought was all but forgotten.

Although the path to the construction has been convoluted — and often contentious — it wasn’t until the last month that real progress was made towards making the dream of a skate park a reality. In mid-December, council member Shari Pierce approached Tom Carosello, supervisor of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, about looking at a scaled down version of the original plan for a skate park, with the intention of requesting town money to finally get started on construction.

Currently, what passes for a skate park in Pagosa Springs is located on an old tennis court in the park on south Eighth Street — several lumber and plywood structures built by skaters. However, residents of the area have lodged numerous complaints about the ad hoc skate park and the skaters that use it.

In 2006, town officials met with members of the SCC and agreed that, with funds and cooperation from the organization, the town would pursue construction of a skate park. Energized by the town’s informal promise, the SCC began holding fundraisers with the hopes that local or state grants would match money raised through local events.

By early 2008, plans for a skate park were looking optimistic as the SCC had secured substantial donations from individuals and businesses ($50,000 pledged by The Springs Resort and almost another $20,000 pledged by other sources), as well as over $8,000 collected from fund-raisers. With substantial in-kind donations lined up for dirt and concrete work, a preliminary design in hand and construction bids prepared, the SCC hoped that the town would move forward with submitting a Greater Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant request that March.

Unfortunately, Carosello regarded the funding in place to be inadequate to meet the project’s estimated costs (over $300,000) as well as “contingency costs” — about 10 percent of estimated expenses and in place to cover any cost over runs. Carosello withheld the grant application until the following August so that adequate funding could be secured.

At that time, a number of issues arose to further confound the original plans for a skate park and delay the project for yet another grant cycle.

First of all, the town was forced to scramble for a wastewater treatment plant after estimated costs for that project far exceeded funding mechanisms in place, effectively displacing the proposed location of the skate park (where decommissioned wastewater lagoons would have been). Seemingly unaware that a new location would have to be secured, surveyed and engineered for the skate park, no time was left to draft preliminary plans in order to meet an August grant submission deadline.

Secondly, the effects of the recession were beginning to be felt by the town and donors who had initially pledged money or in-kind work donations towards the project. Unfortunately, financial and other commitments for constructing a skate park appeared to waiver.

Still, by early 2009, it looked as though a skate park could be built, if only a location could be secured. A suggestion for the east end of Town Park (adjacent to the Pagosa Springs Youth Center), initially met enthusiastically by council members due to the projects visibility, was eventually struck down after many residents (and an influential nonresident) voiced strong opposition to the location.

After rejecting the Town Park location, Carosello and several members of council brought forward an idea to locate the skate park on land just behind the Post Office. Again, although the idea was received enthusiastically at first, the location’s lack of restrooms, parking and need for a substantial retaining wall (adding another $100,000 to the project’s costs) made the idea a nonstarter. An eleventh-hour proposal to put the project in Yamaguchi Park, while almost universally accepted, was delivered too late to meet a March 2010 grant submission deadline.

By the time an August 2010 GOCO grant submission deadline had come and gone, it appeared that plans for a skate park were all but dead as mention of the park had all but disappeared from town council discussions. Indeed, it was the opinion of many local skaters that the town had given up on the project.

However, the idea for a skate park was revived by Pierce at a special Dec. 17 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission. At that meeting, Pierce proposed pursuing a smaller, “plaza style” skate park that, while integrating features popular with many skaters (i.e. rails, ramps and ledges), would not include larger (and more expensive) features such as bowls, explaining that town council might approve funding for a scaled-back design.

Although PRC member (and SCC head) Jon King had called the special meeting to object to the town’s decision to use a March grant cycle to pursue funds for restrooms at Yamaguchi Park, ahead of the skate park, the topic of the meeting moved to the idea of a scaled-back design.

By the end of the meeting, the PRC had approved a motion to allow Pierce to request funds for a scaled-back park design at the next town council meeting.

It was that request that was considered and accepted on Tuesday night.

“I think we can build a nice plaza style park for $80,000,” Pierce told the board. “I think that there’s broad community support for this project ... I think the kids of this community deserve this, they’ve had their hopes dashed so many times.”

Pierce went on to explain that the plaza style design, if supplied with electricity, could serve a “dual purpose, i.e. for concerts or other events.

Representing the SCC, Mike Musgrove expressed some reservations about the scaled back design, but said, “I think the Skaters Coalition is behind this, even if it’s scaled back ... at least it’s something.”

Speaking for the kids skating at the Pagosa Springs Youth Center during the year, PSYC Director Joanne Irons said, “They want to make it happen ... the kids just want concrete to skate on.”

Musgrove added, “This park will get used,” but warned that, as a sport that is growing by leaps and bounds, the park would be outgrown within a few years and expansion would be necessary. However, he also conceded that the scaled back design would at least be a good starting point, one that might provide a venue for further fund-raising and grant applications.

With a motion to allocate funds for the skate park made by council member Don Volger and a second by council member Jerry Jackson, council approved the expenditure with a unanimous vote.

Later in the meeting, Town Parks Supervisor Jim Miller reported that two new whitewater features constructed adjacent to Town Park were nearing completion and would be ready for the spring rafting season.

Thanking Davey Pitcher and Bob Hart for donating labor and equipment for the project, Miller said, “That (the two new structures) will be a spectacular addition to the river ... all but for tying up a few loose ends, the work is done.”

Miller added that rocks taken from the river had been transported to the new sledding and snowboarding run on Reservoir Hill for the construction of a berm at the bottom of the run — to great success.

Given Miller’s report, it was apparent Tuesday night that the town has made some progress in widening the options for recreation in the town. Although skaters will not get the skate park they had expected several years ago, given those expectations had all but dried up over the past year, they may be grateful that at least they will soon have someplace to ride.

If engineering and design go without a hitch, construction on the skate park could begin as early as this May.