By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The immediate future of Keizer’s Carlson Skate Park was on the line at a meeting of the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee Tuesday, March 14.
The board was faced with a decision of suspending a matching grant program to cover much-needed repairs at the park or a looming closure of Carlson if it continues to deteriorate.
After a lengthy discussion, board members decided to suspend the matching grant program in favor of repairs at Carlson. Reaching a resolution meant moving forward under the assumption that the parks department would receive no additional funding in the city budget in the coming fiscal year and that no fee would be created to establish a dedicated parks fund.
“I think we’ve done great things with the matching grant program, but we’ve had two failed (matching grant) attempts with the skate park and we have skaters in the parking lot because (Carlson) is not fit for use,” said Robert Johnson, Keizer parks supervisor.
Carlson Skate Park was built with majority-volunteer effort and opened in July 1999. At the time, the total estimated value was $360,000 and the city only provided about $20,000 of that cost. It would be worth about $530,000 today adjusted for inflation, but it’s suffered serious depreciation over time.
It was and remains the largest skate park in the mid-Willamette Valley area at 21,000 square feet. It’s nearly double the size of the next largest one, Aumsville’s 11,000-square-foot Brian Haney Memorial Skate Park. The other three nearby parks are all under 10,000 square feet. Johnson said he wasn’t aware of just how large Carlson is until recently.
“With size comes a much higher cost for the repairs,” Johnson said.
After nearly 18 years with only a bare minimum of upkeep, the park is falling into disrepair with large cracks forming, and some areas – like the bowl – nearly a complete hazard for certain types of riders.
On top of those issues, there are others that would not be evident to the casual observer. When the park was built, the idea appears to have been putting as many types of surfaces – bowls, ramps and grinding rails – in as possible and not as much thought was given to how riders would transition from one area of the park to another without dismounting and walking to the next space. More modern skate park designs incorporate transitions into the visioning process.
The cost of bringing the park up to modern standards and resurfacing what is allowed to remain is hefty. Estimates range from $500,000 to $650,000. However, Johnson told the board that a less costly resurfacing project on the current layout might be much cheaper, about $60,000.
“A crack repair could buy a couple of years for planning the big repair,” Johnson said.
The price tag, however, is still well beyond what’s available in the current parks budget, roughly $330,000 for all of Keizer’s 240 acres of park land. Those circumstances are what led Johnson to propose suspending a matching grant program for one year and freeing up funds for the resurfacing.
Suspending the matching grant program for any period of time also comes at a cost. The 3-year-old matching grant program has been used for projects small and large in Keizer parks. Recently, a grant request was approved to install a fence around the Rickman Community Garden, but the largest beneficiary of the program has by far been the Keizer Little League fields. Efforts to rehabilitate the facility have received $20,000 in the past two years. With any matching grant approval, the requestors must provide matching funds or in-kind services equal to the amount of the grant given by the Parks Advisory Board. The parks board is allocated $15,000 each year to provide matching grants.
A rock and a hard place
Without any certainty that the Keizer City Council will approve a fee creating a dedicated parks fund, the parks board was faced with making a choice between the repairs at Carlson and the matching grant fund.
Suspending the program provides Johnson with roughly $26,000 to repair all the cracks at the skate park, but the conversations regarding the decision were wide-ranging and took into account the effects on both programs.
“We have a pot of money (matching grant funds) being used for really good projects and have compounded to do good work. Now, we are faced with the decision of robbing our future to do something now,” said parks board member Matt Lawyer.
Scott Klug, who would later say he supported the decision to suspend the matching grant program, played devil’s advocate.
“I don’t see the people who use the skate park coming forward (to advocate for it). It seems like we are putting money into something when another project might come along with more support of the users,” Klug said.
Board member Dylan Juran countered.
“The value (of Carlson) is hidden in other places like the businesses not having skaters in parking lot, and it’s less of a liability to us,” Juran said. “The primary user base is minors who don’t know how to deal with a bunch of adults, and who are looking for a lot (in terms of money).”
Clint Holland, a parks board member and a major advocate and volunteer in the KLL rehabilitations, said skate park users don’t have a lot of the expenses associated with other sporting activities and wanted to see some of the parents more involved.
“There’s groups like Rotary and Kiwanis that they could go to,” Holland said.
Juran countered that skate park users also don’t have the revenues, like player fees, organized sports generate.
Klug added that there was a difference between asking a third baseman to take care of their area of the field and asking a skate park user to “patch a hole in cement.”
Lawyer said he visited the park a few weeks prior to the meeting and chatted up some of the kids and adults who frequented the site.
“They pointed out a handful of places they absolutely could not use,” Lawyer said. “It’s not them-and-us conversation. It’s about the safety of our kids and the safety of our assets,”
Parks board member Jim Taylor said his primary concern was wasting the money put into repairs if a larger redesign project might be in the offing.
“It’s another bandage. It might give us another few months, but might be good money after bad,” Taylor said.
Johnson said that even if a repair project only bought the city time to get other plans off the ground, it could still be worthwhile and make closing the park for safety reasons more unlikely.
“Once it gets to a certain point it will deteriorate more rapidly. If water gets under the cracks it could cause the whole foundation to malfunction,” Johnson said.
The board voted unanimously to suspend the matching grant program for one year. If a parks fee becomes a reality, there is the possibility of continuing the matching grant program in the next fiscal year.