Our Views: Skatepark in Janesville is long overdue

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Janesville’s long-proposed skatepark has had more ups and downs than a skateboarding pro.

Last week, the city council voted to put the skatepark where Bond Park’s deteriorated tennis courts now sit. The city would invest $100,000 already borrowed to build the skateboarding facility.

It’s past time to get on with it.

In 2005, the council approved a Palmer Park site over the recommendation of its leisure services committee, which favored a spot across from Lions Beach. That caused the committee chairman to resign in anger, though it pleased Roger Streich, Janesville Outdoor Skatepark Committee leader.

In 2010, the council voted for a Monterey Park spot, despite flooding risks, goose poop, a squeeze on athletic practice fields and concerns raised by staff at nearby Wilson Elementary School. Later that year, the council spun its wheels again and switched to a Jackson Street site because the area might be eligible for federal money.

Bond Park on the west side, however, ranked No. 1 in a 2013 analysis of eight possible locations. Flooding wouldn’t be a concern in the 12-acre park north of West Court Street. Parking and restrooms are available. The park has streets on two sides to help police monitor activities, according to the analysis.

Streich and his group still favor a site south of Palmer Drive because of Palmer Park’s nearby playground, wading pool and other family amenities. That site, however, ranked lowest in the new study because it’s near a busy road and the hilly area would be tough to grade.

To his credit, Streich acknowledges that “a skatepark someplace is better than a skatepark no place.”

Streich’s group has spent 11 years trying to raise money and has only gathered about $60,000. The city’s frequent waffling on a site has done nothing to help. Besides, many kids who want a skatepark aren’t those who sign up for team sports and come from families with deep pockets who might donate to the facility.

Many people balk at a skatepark in their neighborhood. They stereotype skateboarders as rebellious, often foul-mouthed kids who damage private property to practice their tricks. Many neighbors howled when the Palmer Park spot was considered.

Yes, skateboarders can be free spirits and nonconformists. The city, however, has invested in fields and diamonds for the Youth Sports Complex on the east side and in upgrades to the ice arena. Skateboarders are underserved kids who likewise deserve a place to call their own, exercise and practice their favorite sport.

Now that a new best site has been chosen, Parks Director Cullen Slapak expects that a steering committee will be named and work with architects on designs and meet with Bond Park’s neighbors. Still uncertain is whether bedrock would prevent construction of an in-ground bowl that skateboarders prefer.

Whatever the design, Slapak thinks work could start next spring. That might give supporters time to seek grants to pool with the city’s and skateboard committee’s money.

Here’s hoping the city can proceed with this facility after so many years of debate. A skatepark would check one more item off the city’s list of recreational goals.

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