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Grassroots effort trying to build skatepark in Sharpsburg

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:05 p.m.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Queyntel Yanke, 19, does a kick flip with his skateboard under the 62nd Street Bridge during the community fundraiser.

An art class assignment at Shaler Area High School has turned into a community initiative in Sharpsburg, thanks to the grass-roots efforts of community residents.

Community members are working to raise money to turn a seldom-used parking lot under the 62nd Street Bridge into a skate park, and they celebrated their progress during the June 27 62nd Street Boogie community event with food, music and skate demonstrations.

“It's an exciting project,” said Jan Barbus, Sharpsburg's borough secretary. “Eventually, we're hoping it will be one of our public areas.”

The idea for the skate park started in Chris Lisowski's Shaler Area High School art class.

When Lisowski asked his students to recreate a two-dimensional representation of their “safe place,” either real or imaginary, one student submitted a painting of a parking lot, which got Lisowski thinking about the lack of recreational areas for teens.

“There is nothing for kids down there to do unless they like to shoot basketball or are on an organized team,” said Lisowksi, a Sharpsburg resident and member of the borough's planning commission.

He proposed transforming the parking lot under the 62nd Street Bridge back into a park for skateboarders and BMX riders. The area formerly was Foerster Park and had play equipment and basketball courts, but was turned into a parking lot when required improvements became cost-prohibitive.

Sharpsburg Council members support the plan and have included it into their recently adopted comprehensive plan.

The Allegheny River Towns Enterprise Zone, or ARTEZ, an economic development agency serving seven riverfront communities, also is supporting the proposed project by offering advice and direction.

ARTEZ serves Aspinwall, Blawnox, Etna, Millvale, O'Hara, Shaler and Sharpsburg.

“The skate park is a community-based project, a grass-roots project,” said Iris Whitworth, executive director of ARTEZ. “We are supportive of it and the community and what the residents want. We are a vehicle for helping facilitate community conversations about things.”

ARTEZ also commissioned and supported the installation of a public-art piece, “Directions,” created by artist Will Schlough, which is installed on the chain-link fence at the site of the proposed skate park.

Initial estimates to install the skate park are about $200,000, and organizers hope future plans might include a shared parking lot between the proposed skate park and proposed riverfront park in Etna.

As fundraising efforts continue, Lisowski is hanging onto his student's parking lot painting as a reference for “why we need to make a place for kids.

“What are we going to do to make these towns better?” he said. “For me, it's focus on the kids.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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