Skate park users offer suggestions for improvements

CHAMPAIGN — If Spalding Park doesn't become the new home for Central High School, the skate park there could see a major upgrade and expansion in 2015.

About a dozen young people who regularly practice their grinds, kickflips, backsides, ollies and other tricks at Spalding's skate park took a break from their maneuvers on Thursday afternoon to meet with Champaign Park District staff members and a consultant.

Andrew Weiss, a park planner and landscape architect for the park district, said the district is considering $800,000 in improvements to Spalding Park as a whole, including an upgrade and expansion to the skate park.

He said the district is applying for a $400,000 development grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to pay for half of the project, with the remaining $400,000 coming from the district's budget.

"We're looking at a major face-lifting of this skate park, which has been around since about 2002," Weiss said. "The skate park gets a lot of use. We want to keep up with the amenities and improve them wherever we can."

On Thursday, the teens and preteens offered their ideas and opinions on what they would like to see at the park.

"We are talking with interested skaters about what they like and dislike about this skate park and how we could make it better," Weiss said.

Rob Jones of Joplin, Mo.-based American Ramp Company, which makes skate parks, distributed books showing photos of various apparatuses used in skate parks around the country to the skateboarders and BMX bikers. The young people drew circles around items they were interested in.

Among the popular ideas:

— Removing the fencing around the skate park area.

— Make the facility more usable for BMX (bicycle motocross) activities.

Reed Reinier, 18, of Champaign, said he has been using the skate park since he was a little boy.

"I just started BMX two days ago," he said. "It is like freestyle motocross, but on a bicycle. Instead of doing tricks on a dirt bike, you do them on a bicycle. It would be great if we had some BMX features here. Expanding the skate park is a fantastic idea."

— Adding skate paths throughout Spalding Park, with features such as mini-pipes and flat rails to provide challenges for the skateboarders along the way.

— Building a series of stairs with a downrail.

Cordell Farries, 15, of Champaign, said he has been skateboarding for three years.

"I would love to see stairs with a downrail at the skate park," he said. "Street skateboarding is becoming more popular, so I would like to do those things here at Spalding."

Aiden Hendren, 16, of Champaign, said he would like to see an apparatus called a long box and a rail.

"If they added more to the skate park, I definitely would come more often." he said.

— Building a hubba, a tall ledge down a set of stairs where grinds and slides are performed.

Some of the changes may require some current features, like the bumps and the snake mound, to be removed or modified.

Weiss anticipates expanding the skate park to the west of the current site, providing room for the new features.

Jones said he will use the information gathered from the young people to provide conceptual ideas and cost estimates for the Spalding facility.

"Is this going to be oriented more toward BMX bikes or skateboards? A lot of times we see scooters and rollerblades. But from what I see here, we are aiming more to provide ideas for BMX bikes and skateboards," he said.

Jones said it isn't unusual for a park district to expand an existing skate park.

"Generally you would expect a skate park to grow with the skaters. You want to see how people are using the skate park, and then continue to add on to it over time."

Weiss said the park district's grant application is due on July 1.

If the park district is awarded the grant, the work could be completed in 2015, according to Weiss.

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