By JOY BROWN
Findlay’s Eagle Creek Skate Park was abruptly closed on Wednesday, the victim of disrepair and vandalism.
City administrators said the closure is temporary, but may last into next year.
The decision was prompted by Tuesday night’s City Council discussion about the park’s safety issues. Councilman-At-Large Grant Russel asked about potential city liability.
Seventh Ward Councilman Bob Nichols, who serves on the Parks and Recreation Board, said the park “is dangerous to use, and there are a lot of particular problems with that location.”
Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer on Wednesday said the park’s laminate surface is in poor condition. Some boards are warped, broken and peeling away.
Graffiti is also present.
The closure means skateboarders and roller skaters have no designated place to roll. City law forbids skateboard and roller skate use on city streets, and on all sidewalks in the downtown business district.
The skate park, championed by the city’s avid skaters and parents, opened in 2000 with a ceremony, demonstrations, food, music and prizes. Catering to in-line skaters and skateboarders, it contains a 13,000-square-foot surface with half-pipes, mini-ramps, quarter pipes, grind rails and launch boxes.
Located between the CSX Railroad tracks and Park Street, it cost $85,000 to build. The city chipped in $45,000, the Hancock Park District another $25,000, National Lime and Stone Co. provided $5,000 in materials, the Findlay Masonic Lodge contributed $2,000, and private donors $8,000.
At the time, some residents argued against the location, claiming it would create more traffic, noise and other problems for the neighborhood. They suggested building it at Riverside Park, an option that is now being considered, Public Works Superintendent Matt Stoffel said at the June meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board.
The Park Street location was favored by Tim Brugeman, Hancock Park District director at the time.
Brugeman said many parks are located near railroads and rivers. He also said skaters were risking their safety by using city streets.
Parents and other volunteers would keep an eye on the park so it wouldn’t become overrun by bullies, marred with litter, or defaced, he predicted.
Brugeman, when contacted Wednesday, said park district monitoring of the skate park began to lag when it relocated its Park Street office to East Main Cross Street. An active neighborhood parents’ group that had taken it upon themselves to police the area also fell by the wayside, he said.
“The kids grew up and they went away. Some of the parents have moved away,” Brugeman said.
“The kids loved that thing to death. I’m sad to see it close, obviously,” Brugeman said.
Schmelzer said the city did not routinely maintain the park.
“For the last year and a half, we’ve known that we’ll have to put significant dollars into the existing facility, relocate it or close it,” Schmelzer said.
He expects City Council members to be briefed on repair and relocation cost options by the end of the year, for possible inclusion on the 2015 capital improvements list.
The skate park may need adaptations. Fourteen years ago, skating had finally become popular in Findlay.
But Brugeman and Schmelzer said an increasing number of bicycles have also been maneuvered through the turnstile.
Bicyclists “fall and slide down those ramps sideways, and the pedals and kickstands and whatnot just scrape the heck out of it,” Brugeman said.
“It gets used a lot by bicyclists, which was not the original intent when it was built. That’s part of the reason for its decline,” Schmelzer said.
Regular maintenance at the park has been lacking, Schmelzer said.
“From the onset, one of the most important things to me has been annual maintenance. There’s been little to no annual maintenance” at the park, he said.
Brugeman said designs and technology have dramatically changed since the Eagle Creek Skate Park was built, with more places using concrete and other durable materials.
But “a concrete skate park is megabucks,” Brugeman said, “because it’s not a flat surface. You have to scallop out dips and swirls and build walls and steps. The concrete needs to be sealed every couple of years.”
“It comes down to priorities and where you’re going to spend the money,” Schmelzer said.
Findlay Police Lt. Robert Ring said the department has responded to 361 complaints there since the park opened. He didn’t consider that an excessive number for an unsupervised youth gathering spot.
“We get sent down there from time to time, usually for neighborhood complaints. There have been fights out there every now and then. Usually we’re called to investigate suspicious situations.
“The major incident for this year alone was a kid spray painting. It’s not super active there,” Ring said.