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Communities realizing need for skate parks

| Thursday, June 13, 2002

Although today's youths, including those in the South Hills, have turned skateboarding and in-line skating from extreme to mainstream, few communities have responded to teen-age requests for a safe place to skate.

Many are looking to skating and BMX biking as alternatives to team sports.

Baldwin resident Tim Pifer, 15, has been skateboarding and in-line skating for more than a year and tries to skate every day.

"My friends got me into it," said Pifer as he took a break from skating. "It's challenging. It's something better to do than conventional sports. I played baseball for two years and went out for the basketball team. This is more fun."

Brentwood Mayor Ken Lockhart is one of the few municipal leaders in the area who is working toward building a skate park to give the board enthusiasts a place away from streets, sidewalks and private property.

"I want to put the kids in a safe environment," Lockhart said. "No matter how good you are, you will fall (skateboarding). They need to be away from traffic."

Skateboarding and in-line skating are more than a passing fad. According to a Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association survey done in 2000, more boys 6 to 17 years old went skateboarding (7.5 million) than played baseball (6.9 million). Television coverage of major competitions and events — such as The X Games — continues to grow, and The 885 Skate Park, a private business, recently opened in West Mifflin.

Currently, no extreme skating facilities exist in any of the county parks. South Park has an in-line skating facility that is used for roller hockey. The City of Pittsburgh opened McKinley Skate Park and plans to open another one soon.

Clarence Hopson, deputy director of recreation for Allegheny County, said the county is looking into the possibility of building a skate park in North and South parks.

Money, however, seems to be an issue in building any type of park.

Bill Moore, Mt. Lebanon's director of recreation, said his community doesn't have any plans to build a skate park due to money constraints.

"From time to time people have inquired about the possibility of a skate park," Moore said. "The problem is combating attitudes about skateboarding and safety issues. The insurance on something like this isn't as big as it used to be. Our problem is that the money isn't readily available to build it."

Skateboarder Gary Davis, 9, said he got a board in December, "but I still like basketball, too. They're both equal."

Jeff Pokrajac, 17, a senior at Mt. Lebanon High School said he got into BMX riding when he was 13.

"I used to play baseball, soccer and all that, but I like this better," Pokrajac said. "There's a little more risk involved, and you can be more creative. It's less organized and there's no coaches."

Many local municipalities have banned skateboarding on sidewalks, streets and parks, leaving the skaters with a problem — no skating allowed anywhere.

Bethel Park resident Blaine McDaniel, 13, has been skating for about two years and now skates almost every day. His dad, Tom, said everyone tells skateboarders where they can't go instead of providing a safe place for them.

"It's pretty common to see kids with boards these days," Tom McDaniel said. "To a certain extent they do ruin property, but if there was a place to go it wouldn't be a problem."

His son agreed.

"I skate every day if I can. I have to go all over because there aren't many close places," he said. "I do all sorts of different tricks. It's fun."

Police usually just tell the skaters to move along. However, McDaniel received a citation because he had been warned about skating once before by the police.

Pokrajac was fined $75 by Mt. Lebanon police for his BMX riding.

"I definitely wish we had (a park) in Mt. Lebanon or close by," Pokrajac said. "We were trying to get one started here but nobody seemed interested."

Safety and liability are a concern for every municipality that allows skaters in parks and on streets. Pennsylvania has no laws protecting municipalities from being sued over injuries in parks. However, Sen. Jane Orie, a McCandless Republican, introduced legislation to release municipalities from injuries sustained at skate parks. It is still pending. Several other states have similar legislation passed.

Two weeks ago a 15-year-old boy was killed when he fell off his board into the path of a tractor-trailer in Philadelphia.

Local leaders are making safety a top priority for any new park idea.

Brentwood's mayor said he hopes his park will provide a safe place for boarders and get them away from businesses and sidewalks.

"I can't blame them for skating in the business parking lots because they don't want to get hit by a car," Lockhart said. "But you have to look out for the businesses, too. The skate park will get the kids off the streets. Putting kids in a safe environment is my top priority."

Mt. Lebanon isn't the only place concerned with the cost of a skate park. Brentwood is planning on grants and fund-raisers and said the proposed park would no cost taxpayers a dime.

According to Jim Pashek, owner of Pashek Associates, which recently designed The West Penn Skate Park that will be built in the Polish Hill area of Pittsburgh, said it's important to balance safety concerns with what the kids want in the park.

He estimated his design for the city's new skate park will cost around $125,000. A small park can cost as little as $20,000, and multiple ramp designs can easily top $250,000.

"We listened to the kids," Pashek said. "We wanted to get a sense of what they wanted. We tried to provide variety in the park and stay within budget constraints at the same time. Skaters tend not to be involved in team sports, and it's neat that communities are reaching out to those kids."

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