KETCHIKAN, Alaska - Two skateboard park designers recently visited Ketchikan as the momentum builds toward transforming a vacant lot near Schoenbar Middle School into a nifty blend of ramps, bowls and rails for skaters of all abilities.
"I think it's a great site," said Lori Linville, owner of the Oregon-based Liquid Stone Designs, as she checked out the creekside lot at the corner of Park Avenue and Schoenbar Road.
Linville and Liquid Stone designer Jason Shomaker were in Ketchikan at the invitation of Ketchikan Youth Initiatives.
The local nonprofit group is working on an agreement with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough that will move the skate park project toward construction of what might be the first of multiple phases.
In addition to visiting the proposed skate park site, Linville and Shomaker toured Ketchikan to get a feel for the community before meeting with local skateboarders and others to hear what elements they'd like to see in the design.
Topping the wish list were bowls, according to KYI President Bob Fultz. Bowls are pool-like concrete structures with curved sides.
The current concept is for the bowls to be covered by some type of roof so they can be used year-round, regardless of weather, according to Fultz.
Other desired elements were various general features such as ramps and rails, and a nice "flow" that would allow skateboarders to transition from one feature to the next with relative ease.
Shomaker said Liquid Stone Design would use the list of features in developing a design that fits the local community.
"We're going to try to make it a diverse park with a little bit of everything for the kids to learn," Shomaker said. "It's going to be in phases, so some of the features won't come until later. But in the first phase, we're going to try to offer a little taste of everything - a little transition, a little street."
He said skatepark design has progressed from t he not-so-long-ago practice of simply throwing out some ramps and calling it good. Current skate park designs integrate decorative concrete and various textures in the mix.
"It's starting to be where it's not just a concrete park, but it's actually kind of piece of artwork in the city," Shomaker said. "It's a piece of sculpture."
That fits the KYI goal of having a park that skateboarders will use and the community can appreciate.
"It's going to be beautiful," Fultz said. "By having this type of park, it's just totally going to be utilized by everyone - as opposed to just throwing a piece of just concrete down and a couple of little jumps or rails or whatever. Nobody's going to use that. This is going to be really cool."
Fultz has been involved in pursuing a skateboard park in Ketchikan for about seven years. Things began moving toward an actual project in 2010, when the Borough Assembly agreed to appropriate $150,000 for a skateboard park project. Then, in ea rly 2011, the Assembly set aside the borough-owned property next to the middle school as the potential site.
Since then, KYI and the borough have been working on an agreement for the development and operation of the skate park.
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst said Thursday that the borough has informally presented a proposition to KYI in which KYI would assume responsibility for the site, either through a lease or land conveyance. The borough would transfer the $150,000 to KYI for the park, which would be operated and maintained by KYI.
Ketchikan Youth Initiatives has indicated interest in the borough proposal, but has not provided a formal response yet, according to Bockhorst. The borough has not set a deadline for a KYI response.
"We're ready to move forward when we have that formal statement from KYI," Bockhorst said.
Any agreement involving the land and funding would have to be approved by the Assembly. Borough officials said KYI would be responsible for obtaining all of the necessary permits for the skate park. Fultz said KYI hopes that it can get the permitting accomplished in time for the project to start as soon as September, but the project start still might be a year or more away.
"It depends on what we can do with the money, what we can do with in-kind services," Fultz said.
According to the KYI website, Liquid Stone Designs has submitted a bid of $375,000 to design and build the project.
KYI now is seeking funds to supplement the $150,000 committed by the borough, according to agency information.
Fultz said in-kind local donations will be a factor in the skate park construction.
"There are a number of local contractors that have stepped up and given us discounts and free use of backhoes, gravel, things like that - which will be huge," Fultz said. "And if there's anybody else ... that has scrap steel, anything that we could utilize, the better. It's a community effort, and so far, people are really supporting it."
Shomaker has enjoyed the community involvement during the building of skate parks in the Lower 48, especially in small towns.
"In smaller towns, people get involved," Shomaker said. "It's creative. Sometimes we're working and we have people pull up in a truck (and say), 'Hey, I've got a bunch of granite and rock, you guys want to put it in the park?
"(We say), 'Yeah, bring it,' and we'll find a spot and make something out of it," he continued. "It's usually something that gives it a little more personality."
Fultz said KYI and local skaters are very excited about the project's direction after such a long effort to get things moving.
"Now that ... things have progressed so much right now with the borough, and where we are now with Liquid Stone here, people are actually feeling it's going to happen, very optimistic," Fultz said." We have a user group. We had the fundraiser at Rain City (Tattoo). They made over $1,600. ... We've done other events and it's only going to get better."
Asked about the current status of skateboarding, Shomaker of Liquid Stone Design said the sport continues to grow quickly. Eventually, every city in America is likely to have a skate park.
"There's definitely as many kids skateboarding as playing other sports," he said. "And a lot of the kids who do other sports still skate. (A skateboard park) just allows people to be able to go there all the time and get exercise and be active."
Fultz said people still will skateboard in other parts of Ketchikan after the community has a good skate park.
"But we want this to be the hub, the place," Fultz said. "There will still be people skating and longboarding (elsewhere), but this will be the place where they can come and get a little bit of everything - a one-stop shop."