Renderings of temporary (top) and permanent skate parks from City of Evanston

Evanston skateboarders on May 25 were not turning handflips over City recreation officials’ decision to build a temporary skate park at James Park’s west end before installing a permanent one.

And they want more say in the design and materials to be used in the permanent one, which officials announced they contemplate putting in Twiggs Park, which is located at Dodge Avenue at Simpson Street.

The meeting May 25, held over Zoom, was the City’s second on the issue. With skateboarders gathering at the City’s newly renovated Fountain Square and other spots downtown not designed for skateboarding, officials started holding discussions about a new skate park.

The City’s previous skate park was located on the parking lot at the old Robert Crown Community Center. It was closed about 15 years ago and never replaced.

At a March 17 meeting, a number of skateboarders urged officials to forego a plan to build a temporary skate park and install a permanent facility.

Officials heard that sentiment “and we appreciate that,” said Stefanie Levine, a Senior Project Manager with the City, capsulizing the City’s response at the May 25 meeting.

She said, however, with a permanent site perhaps several years away, officials wanted to get “something in place now for the kids and folks that really want a site in the short term so that we can fill that gap.”

Officials have identified a portion of the west parking lot at James Park at 300 Dodge Ave., for the temporary installation. The City had earlier budgeted $50,000 toward the project, with construction possibly taking place later this year.

In selecting that site, officials were looking for an area that is already paved and is in reasonably good condition,” Ms. Levine said, “not too close to residences, and not something that’s going to displace programming.”

She said the idea would be “to buy off-the-shelf prefabricated skate systems that we can place on top of that [parking lot] paving,” and that could support the activity for several years.

The temporary skate park would occupy about 5,000 square feet, similar in size to the basketball court that is also located at the park’s west end. It will use a steel-frame system with painted steel ramps and steel railing, not concrete favored by skateboarders, Ms. Levine said in her presentation.

“We’re looking for that for the permanent improvement,” she said. “But it’s got some longevity to it – a galvanized steel system is going to last for three to five years.”

As for the surface, she said, “we need it to really feel so smooth like a tennis court; we heard that quite a bit.”

At the meeting, though, a number of skateboarders urged officials to contact Evanston Skates, a local advocacy group for skateboarders, and to also make a connection with famous skateboarder Tony Hawk’s Skatepark Project.

“Doing this will result in a project plan that is best and most easily funded,” said a speaker who identified himself as Mike and a member of Evanston Skates.

Nathan Kipnis, a member of Evanston Skates and a local architect – and standout skateboarder in the early days of the sport – also urged officials to follow up on Mike’s suggestion making contact with the Tony Hawk Foundation.

“I think this is really, really key to helping get some money, helping Evanston to get a really great skate park.”

Another participant, Eric, a Second Ward resident and lifelong skateboarder, volunteered to serve in some advisory role to bring perspective as an experienced skateboarder.

“I think you guys need to apply it,” he said, “because that temporary park you’ve presented this evening doesn’t meet the user needs.”

He said some quarter pipes and boxes need to be added. He said whether the City should have multiple parks or one destination park was a concern of the skateboard community.

Another speaker, Aaron Kaplan, on the meeting’s participant list, raised concern about the dimensions of the temporary facility.

“My daughter is almost 4, and she wants to learn to skateboard,” he told officials. “I would never take her to this location to learn to skateboard because the minute you get five people in there it’s going to be a nightmare for a little kid. It’s going to be too intimidating.”

He recommended the City form an advisory council composed of actual skateboarders.

Responding, Lara Biggs, the City’s Capital Planning Bureau Chief, said it is not uncommon for the public engagement aspect of a project to run six to 12 months before officials begin designing “because we really do solicit that kind of input.” 

She said officials do intend to follow that process on the permanent skate park. The situation is different, though, she indicated, on the temporary skate park proposal, where officials are getting a mix of comments and there is no universal viewpoint.

But Council Member Bobby Burns, whose Fifth Ward includes Twiggs Park and the site where officials are proposing to build the permanent facility, told officials at the meeting, “I would love to see what I can do to make sure we have an advisory committee. Like now,” he emphasized.

“Not a week from now, not two weeks from now, like right now,” Mr. Burns said. “I think it makes a lot sense, because there’s a lot of nuance involved.”

He said, for instance, an advisory committee member who is also from the skateboard community could accompany a City staff person on site visits to skate park manufacturers. Further, the manufacturer could be “invited into this type of space to field questions directly from the community.”

Bringing the meeting to a close, Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, indicated officials were listening closely to such sentiments.

“You know, we wrote a ton of notes,” he said. “I think we want to come together and try to make this something that the community will use, and not just check a box. We want to make this something the community will use.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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