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Skatepark faces possible site change

After changing a proposed location for a skatepark three times, with administrative indecision delaying construction of the park by a year, the Town Council of Pagosa Springs could change the location for a fourth time, and delay construction on the project for yet another year.

In an 11th-hour appeal, Archuleta County Commissioner Bob Moomaw has asked the town to consider a fourth location — in Yamaguchi Park — and possibly delay the project beyond its March grant cycle deadline, pushing the grant application out until an August grant cycle. That delay would push completion of the skatepark out another year.

Commissioner Moomaw was unapologetic in his explanation. “It is doable,” he said, seemingly unaware of the March 2 deadline. “What I’m trying to do is come up with is a better solution.”

Pointing out that the Spring Street location behind the post office lacked parking, toilets, and any sound funding, Moomaw said, “To me, it (the Yamaguchi Park location) creates a more doable project.”

However, pressed on the fact that new geotech studies would push the project outside the March grant cycle, Moomaw was confident that the town’s Parks and Recreation department would have those studies done in time for the March grant deadline.

“That’s insane,” said Pagosa Springs Parks and Recreation Director Tom Carosello, “even if we could commission the study that day, it would take three weeks to get the results back.”

While Carosello conceded that the cost of a retaining wall at the Spring Street site added to the overall price of the project, he asked, “Where were these guys last fall? They had a chance to propose Yamaguchi Park then and they didn’t.”

While Town Manager David Mitchem was reluctant to admit that relocation was on the agenda for the council’s mid-month agenda, he did say that town officials and staff were looking at a Yamaguchi Park location for the skatepark.

“We’re looking at this as something the community might embrace,” he said.

Likewise, Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon said, “The town is taking a look at moving it down there; it just makes a lot of sense.”

Pointing to the expense of the retaining wall, the mayor said a Yamaguchi Park location made more sense because, “It’s a matter of economics, now.”

Town officials have previously admitted, on several occasions, that a skatepark was not a priority, despite widespread support from the community — including more than $100,000 in local funds promised for the project — and have continued to set the project back.

Still, Mitchem emphasized that the town has not backed down from its commitment to finish the skatepark.

“I’d like to see this built this year,” Mitchem said. “The town needs this.”

However, in an example of a political shell-game, the project has been proposed for several locations, at various times, including a rehabbed sewer lagoon (eventually scotched by federal regulators), Town Park and, finally, by a resolution passed by the Pagosa Springs Town Council, behind the post office (the Spring Street location). Having passed a resolution in September 2009 to accept the Spring Street site, it appeared that a skatepark would finally be built.

Examining the location behind the post office, it was clear that a retaining wall would be needed; the cost of that wall was unknown. However, skatepark supporter (and local business owner) Bruce Hoch reversed conditions on a promised donation of $3,000 for engineering at the proposed Town Park location for the council’s accepted Spring Street location.

“Just get it done,” Hoch said at the time.

In fact, proposing yet another change in the location of the skatepark has cast doubts in the minds of skatepark supporters as to the commitment of the town in completing the project.

“I feel the Skater’s Coalition has met all the requests of the town and moving it is putting it off, just moving it back another year,” said Jon King, head of the SCC (Skater’s Coalition for Concrete), the organization behind the push for a skatepark.

Over the past several years, the SCC has organized several events to raise funds for a skatepark and has also received almost $70,000 from private donors. Having secured a promise by the town that a skatepark would be built if the SCC could raise matching funds for a Greater Outdoors Colorado grant, the SCC mobilized local skaters to organize a number of fund-raising events.

By mid-February 2009, the SCC felt it had raised enough money to meet requirements for the GOCO grant application’s March deadline. However, at that time, Carosello was reluctant to submit the grant application, stating that while the required money was in place for the grant, the group still lacked “contingency” funds (about 10-percent of estimated construction costs) and delayed the grant submission until the next grant cycle in August 2009.

With contingency funds in place and a location secured, it appeared that the town was prepared to submit the grant application at that time. However, with the town unable to secure funding for a new wastewater treatment plant, the proposed location for the skatepark became untenable. Unfortunately, town staff overlooked the fact that a new location would be needed for the skatepark until too late — necessary engineering and site assessments would not be completed in time to meet an August grant cycle.

Soon after that, the town proposed a new site for the skatepark, in Town Park. For about two weeks, the Pagosa Springs Town Council appeared to be in unanimous support of the Town Park location. However, vocal opposition to that location, from residents and nonresidents alike, seemed to change council’s mind.

After rejecting the Town Park site proposal, the town settled on the location behind the post office. With site assessments and engineering completed for that third — and what appeared to be, final — location, all the pieces looked to be in place for the project to meet the March 2, 2010, GOCO grant cycle.

That is, until last week. Citing the expense of a retaining wall, along with a lack of parking and restrooms, both Aragon and Moomaw stated that a Yamaguchi Park location was better suited for the skatepark.

Last year, Yamaguchi Park had been considered for the skatepark, but at that time GOCO officials told Carosello that, since the park had also been funded by a GOCO grant, it would disqualify another GOCO grant for a skatepark there.

Now, according to Carosello, GOCO has changed its tune. Not realizing the skatepark would be built as to not encroach on other park structures (such as ball fields or other amenities), GOCO apparently gave the greenlight for submitting a grant application for a site within Yamaguchi Park.

Nonetheless, changing the site entails yet another delay and further expenses. Furthermore, the revised plan has not only frustrated supporters of the skatepark, but could potentially change the minds of donors who have grown tired of the town’s inability to follow through on its promises.

“The move will possibly drive the cost up another 10 percent,” said King. “We’ve already spent $15,000 that we’ve earned. How are we going to get that back?”

Joanne Irons, school board member and director of the Pagosa Springs Youth Center (where skaters have been congregating this winter), says she feels bad for the skaters who have worked so hard for the skatepark and put their faith in the town.

“This is a group of kids that has been doing everything that they’ve been asked to do. They’ve been staying off the streets and coming in here, waiting on warm weather and for their skatepark. They’ve been respectful, supportive and appreciative.

“For the town to change things on them again — this is just wrong.”

Should the town stick with the location behind the post office, and if the GOCO grant is awarded, construction would most likely start in midsummer with completion of the skatepark slated for early September — giving local skaters a couple of months to try out the new amenity.

However, if the town votes to change the location, the project would likely have to wait for another grant cycle, pushing construction out until late spring 2011.

Unfortunately, waiting another year would not just test the patience of local skaters, it could potentially compromise the commitment of skatepark donors — people who opened up their checkbooks expecting the project to be started a year ago but may have to wait yet another year to see their money put to good use. As such, the entire future of the skatepark, funded largely by grants and donations, could be thrown into question.

Finally, the delay and possible demise of the skatepark comes at the expense of local skaters who have worked hard to make their dream a reality. Once again let down by a government that seems indecisive and unable to fulfill its promises, King said that many skaters who have worked to get the project completed are feeling betrayed and forgotten.

“I just wish they’d take us seriously and get this finished,” he said.