They came dressed in their trademark attire — baggy pants, slogan T- and sweat shirts, ball caps reversed — and armed with their transportation of choice, the skateboard.
Most of the speakers that packed the meeting of the Alexandria Park and Recreation Commission last Thursday evening at Lee Center ranged in age from pre- to late teens. But they were united in their aspiration — to have Alexandria build and equip the city's first skatepark.
Many of their parents and two members of Alexandria City Council, Redella S. Pepper and Joyce Woodson, joined in their quest. Both Council members gave their total support, even though the project carries an estimated price tag of $200,000.
"I definitely support this idea. I think the site is absolutely perfect," Pepper stated. Woodson's only question was, "Is there any possibility for expansion?"
Following inspection of a series of potential sites by the Commission and a citizen based focus group it was announced that they had settled on Luckett Field for the 10,000 square foot skatepark. Located at the intersection of Quaker Lane and Duke Street the site was described as "equidistant from the east and west sides of the city."
Scheduled just prior to the regular meeting of the commission, the public information session was intended to accomplish two purposes according to Chairperson Judy Noritake. First it was, "To explain where we are in the process" and secondly "to hear from the kids."
Moses Simmons, special assistant to Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities Director, Sandra Whitmore, outlined the staff's activities since 2001 when City Council requested they study the prospect of establishing a skatepark. The object was to determine the size, location and cost of the project.
The $200,000 price tag was segmented as ADA accessibility improvements — $25,000; equipment — $65,000; paving — $60,000; shipping and installation — $15,000; fence installation — $12,000; other factors — $23,000.
At the present time the city budget includes only $25,000 for design of the skatepark. Noritake emphasized that although, "the commission fully supports this project, we don't have the funds."
She urged those present, particularly the skateboarders, "to get to City Council and get some funding. She also noted, "We are going to have to do some fund-raising. But we are not going to get this done as soon as we would like."
REQUEST FOR INPUT
Noritake opened the meeting to public discussion by stating, "You guys are your own best advocates. Tell us what you want." There was no hesitancy.
In addition to a variety of design suggestions, the two main points hammered home by a variety of speakers was: 1. The nearest skatepark is at Potomac Mills; and 2. This is a large and growing sport with no facility in Alexandria except the public streets.
Several parents joined in the teen chorus that driving to Potomac Mills is not only time consuming but also prohibits many from having access to an established skatepark facility. No facility in Alexandria also increases the public safety hazard of mixing skateboarders and traffic.
Several parents expressed complaints that the police regularly evict skateboarders from city streets for safety reasons. One asked if the commission had contacted the police to provide some place for the enthusiasts until the skatepark is built. "We asked the police to come tonight but as you can see no representative is present," Noritake said.
Whitmore emphasized the main roadblock is money. "It is not in the 2003 budget for capital improvements," she explained.
This brought forth the question "Why was it not planned to be an income generator?" Whitmore answered, "In Alexandria we don't charge for many recreation facilities." Noritake said, "Parks and Recreation has a fund known as the Living Landscape Fund. Money can be segregated in that fund immediately. And contributions are totally tax deductible."
Noritake also noted, "Other organized sports do pay fees. What the city puts up is field upkeep because the fields are used for a variety of purposes.
"Here the main thing is the money for the infrastructure. The city budget has been hit with a double whammy, Sept. 11 and the state budget crunch. The city just can't afford this at this time. We are going to need private funding and that is a matter of timing."
Van's Skatepark at Potomac Mills does charge usage fees. A two hour skate session is $11. There is also a $5 charge for the rental of helmets and knee and elbow pads if patrons do not bring their own. Parents must also sign injury liability waivers.
NUMBER ONE PRIORITY
A staunch advocate of the skatepark is city resident Jack Taylor, owner of an auto dealership on Route 1.
"The idea of an Alexandria skatepark is a number one priority with me," he said. "I have volunteered to donate a ramp from Ramp Tech valued at $5,000."
He added, "My son is 13 and very much into skateboarding. It's bigger than many other sports. There's no private money in tennis or baseball or basketball. Maybe, we need to cut something out of other recreational expenses to build this skatepark."
Taylor said, "These parks are relatively maintenance free once they are built. We've got lots of soccer and baseball fields and they all require upkeep. How much did we waste on that ugly thing called a hat on King Street that's covered with weeds?"
He said, "Skateboarding has been great for my son. He collects old skateboards. He is writing a school speech about skateboarding." Taylor also promised, "If private money is the way we have to go, I would contribute."
But the actual realization of an Alexandria skatepark is probably at least a year in the future, according to Kirk Kincannon,deputy director of Parks, Natural Resources and Capital Projects. "This meeting was the first for the commission to get real public input," he said.
"Any proposal has to go through the full city review process. We want to make sure we touch all the bases and give everyone a chance to express their feelings and concerns as we go through that process over the next year," Kincannon said. That process includes the City Planning Commission as well as Council.
In addition to the Luckett Field site, the commission looked at five other potentials over the past 15 months. They were the Mount Vernon and Ramsay tennis court areas, Chinquapin Park, Four Mile Run Park and the Francis Hammond Middle School.
"Luckett was picked for visibility, accessibility and to make use of an existing facility," Kincannon said. "But we are still in the basic phase of the proposal."
Noritake's next step is, "We need a group of kids and their parents to sit down with the commission and talk through all the variables. I don't mean just the creation of the park but its administration, management, and the fund raising procedures. My guess is that it will be the fund raising that holds us up."
This sit down will probably not be limited to just skateboarders. During Thursday night's meeting there were questions raised about facilities for BMX bikers, in-line skaters, and even the possibility of developing a roller skating rink.
There were also questions concerning limiting access to Alexandria residents, lighting for night use, and the use of staff for supervision. All will be part of a future agenda, according to the Commission and staff.
Giving consideration to these other sports was raised by Taylor in a recent e-mail to Whitmore. "I believe that you need to have a separate area for bikes or separate times ... It is naive to think that bikers will not show up. I am not just talking about BMX bikers. I believe any child with a bike will show up."
He further noted, "All of these sports are great for our children. They develop confidence, coordination and creativity. It really is different from team sports. Every day I see kids helping other kids no matter what level (of proficiency) they are at. Children support and admire the other child improving."
Noritake speculated, "If we had everything in place by the end of summer it could happen pretty fast. I want a proposal before the commission before the summer break. Maybe we could have a park in place by fall but my guess is we are looking at the spring of 2003."