Last Thursday, a large number of the public attended a special “brainstorming” meeting to resolve outstanding maintenance, financial, legal and safety issues at the Orcas Island Skate Park.
Orcas Island School District (OISD), which signed an agreement with the Skate Park Board in 2002, owns the property where the skate park is situated, within Buck Park off Mt. Baker Road.
The meeting was called by the OISD, along with the Orcas Island Prevention Partnership (OIPP), which has expressed concerns regarding behavior at the skate park which violates school policy and/or state and federal laws.
Members of the school board, OIPP and the skate park foundation, school district staff, PTSA, the Funhouse, Camp Orkila staff, as well as skaters, students and parents, participated in a lively discussion of the current history of the skate park and suggestions to resolve its issues.
OIPP Director Marta Nielson led the discussion saying, “We’re seeking positive solutions for a good asset. Let’s all work together and let’s solve this.”
The meeting, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 30, focused on many suggestions to deal with the issues, and resulted in the reformation of a “committed” committee, to implement many of the ideas.
Warren Miller, one of the Skate Park Foundation members, suggested that the fund established to maintain the park be accessed at $3,000 per year, to be used in the summer months, for maintenance of the park.
Miller noted that park had cost $250,000 to build, and had been built “almost exlusively” by island people. It is recognized as one of the top five skate parks in the world, Miller said.
OISD Board member Scott Lancaster noted that, in 2002, the school board had accepted a letter from the Skate Park Foundation that stated that a $25,000 endowment would be established for the school district to maintain the park, at a rate of $5,000 per year.
However the district has not received, or asked for any assistance from the skate park foundation until this spring, when OISD Board President Janet Brownell, said that she had sought the help of the Community Foundation to access those funds.
Later in the meeting, Warren Miller of the Skate Park Foundation said, “Nobody ever called” to alert the foundation that the funds were needed. Miller said that the fund could be maintained at its current lever, even with a $3,000 “draw down” per year.
David Mierau, OISD Facilities Director in charge of grounds maintenance, explained that while the OISD does no maintenance inside the skate park itself, maintenance of the surrounding area, including emptying of a dumpster and sani-cans on a twice-weekly basis amounts to about $150 per week. “The lions’ share [of use] are the skaters,” Mierau said.
He emphasized that he didn’t have final figures for the maintenance of the area, and that skaters will pick up the trash when the dumpsters are there.
Parent Debbie Shaw said that most skaters using the park were more than willing to help in maintenance. She also suggested that since the bulk of maintenance occurred in the summer, that funds should be applied to summer usage.
Larry North, a parent and skater, said that before the dumpster was installed, he hauled trash from the park to the dump at his own expense, and said, “We’re all willing to step it up more.”
A work party had occurred at the skatepark the previous Sunday, North added. “If people stopped doing what they’re already doing, it would be really bad” for the park.
Pete Moe, Funhouse director then suggested that the committee be reinvigorated and that it communicate with OISD board and the Community Foundation to organize maintenance and help with billing.
When it was suggested that skateboarders pay a use fee as do other local groups such as Little League and Orcas Rec, Miller reminded the group that the park had been built for the free use by Orcas Islanders, and said, “It’s all about freedom, there’s no score here – in a skateboard park every kid wins.”
However, even though Camp Orkila had negotiated with the school district to pay rental fees the first year, Beth Wangen from Orkila recalled that no bill had been submitted.
School district administrator Sharron Mierau recollected that the park had been designated as free use for local skaters, with no reservation system in place.
Miller said that he felt there should be a fee for organizations such as Camp Orkila, but “like a lot of things, that fell through the cracks.” Miller expressed confidence that Orkila would honor the original agreement and Wangen and Craig Vandermay, Orkila staff members, agreed with Miller. Vandermay said, “Camp Orkila is more than willing to help in the clean-up process. We want [campers] to be good stewards of the resources we have here.”
Brownell praised the commitment of the group to keep the skate park safe and open and said, “Our problem is we just don’t have the money” to pay for the suggestions.
It was suggested that a Boosters Club style concession stand be manned by an adult with profits going to the maintenance of the skate park.
Miller said that use of about $3,000 per year during the five months’ summer period would “solve about 80 percent of the problem. That leaves the helmets and alcohol.”
Lynn Richards asked what the penalty was for alcohol and drug use on school property. Sheriff Deputy Steve Vierthaler stated that the adult fine was $124; underage youth are referred to juvenile court.
Former OIPP Director Moriah Armstrong said she was concerned about the “modeling that goes on for kids,” and said “We need to know there’s a way to enforce school rules.”
OISD Board member Tony Ghazel asked what the school board could do to encourage the sheriff to act on reports from the skate park.
Vierthaler said that the sheriff’s office responds to any call and patrols the park throughout the day. He reminded the audience that there is only one officer on patrol duty, and that reports of illegal behavior needed corroborating statements from eyewitnesses.
Vierthaler brought out that helmet use is not county law, and that it is up to the school to enforce the helmet policy.
Miller said that even though skateboarders will assert, “It’s all about freedom,” there needs to be a helmet policy in the park.
Lancaster said that the school district’s insurance policy requires notification that the district policy is for mandatory helmet use.
In conjunction with the the school district, the sheriff’s department is working on enforcement of the helmet policy, Lancaster said.
Vierthaler suggested that if skaters do not wear helmets, they can be cited by the school for trespassing on school property and then cited by law enforcement officials.
Barbara Clever added that the foundation would approach the council about making helmet use county law, under which legal enforcement could cite violators.
Parental oversight was suggested as one way to deter illegal and inappropriate behavior, both of young and adult skaters.
Moe suggested that adult volunteers could rotate shifts to monitor the park and call the Sheriff to report illegal behavior.
The use of signs to help in maintenance and law observance was discussed, with suggestions ranging from emphasizing the Orcas Island Skate Park’s unique situation of being on school property, to placement of signs within the skatepark enclosure itself, as well as the signs saying in as few words as possible that school policies as well as civil laws, must be observed.
A local skater who’s used the park for three years brought out that it was a place of healing where he could get his body in shape. In addition to suggesting that ads be placed for the park in national skate magazines such as Thrasher, he suggested that that the signs in the park be brief and to the point.”
Shaw sugested that signage be more specific, both within the skate park and on the dumpsters, indicating that they were not for general public use, but for trash pickup at the skate park.
Brownell suggested that the committee report regularly to the School Board on its progress.
Nielson praised “the large group of people with the common ground of wanting to keep the park open.”
Clever also said, “The skateboarders came wanting a solution, not a confrontation. They’re more than willing to work for the park.”
Debbie Shaw said, “I feel that the meeting went very well and everyone respected what each other had to say. With the help of the people who attended and those that weren’t able to be there, these issues can be solved. I think it just took this meeting to re-ignite the fire and to get people re-involved.”