Home Sweet Home

The Tukwila Community Center is an award-winning recreational center point for Tukwila, Wash., a town of about 17,000 located just south of Seattle. But how would legions of teenage skaters pan out at a place that typically serves businesses, families and seniors?

The community center -- which includes a large indoor recreation and conference center, baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts, picnic areas and playgrounds -- was not the first choice for a skatepark.

The school district didn't want the skatepark adjacent to its property, so that possibility was taken off the board, though at the time these adjacent school properties were seen as the most ideal by the parks and recreation department.

Location Connection

Other areas were taken out of consideration for various reasons. Tukwila's parks and recreation director, Bruce Fletcher, notes a number of different factors that point to a poor skatepark location…

First, it has to be close to infrastructure, including telephones, restrooms and transportation. It's best not to place one that's in the middle of nowhere with poor access.

Second, it has to be visible. Put a skatepark in a place that's hidden from public view and anyone who wants to exploit the location for shady reasons -- be it drug dealing or general rowdiness -- will.

Finally, Fletcher says that you don't want it right in the middle of a business or residential area. Close to one of these areas is usually okay, but you want to avoid being right next to someone's house or business.

Also, you have to get public notice out to any neighbors and take into account the noise factor, though Fletcher says the noise of skates on a pre-manufactured surface is minimal.

"When we first started the process and wanted it on school district property a school board member suggested we put it at the community center, thinking there was no way in Hell that the city would put a skatepark at this award-winning community center," says Fletcher.

"When we couldn't find a place and the frustration started to build in the kids, it was time to put our money where our mouth was. The reason it could have been a tough decision is because we had our kids, our seniors and tons of business rentals at the same place, so there was the element of, 'Gosh, what if this doesn't work?' But it's all worked out. I've had zero complaints come across my desk from a senior or renter saying the kids are out of control."

Self-Policing Park

Also currently in the zero category is the amount of money the city's paid to remove graffiti or fix vandalism. Since the park's opening last May, Fletcher says, "We've had only good experiences… It's amazing. Some of that's small town, but the kids bought into this as their park. We told them that if we have problems we can close it and lock it. The kids took it seriously. They pick up the litter and they police it."

Though Fletcher says the kids' ownership is the number one factor that has kept the skatepark clean and problem-free, it does have the benefit of an eye in the sky.

Perched atop an adjacent picnic shelter is a Web cam that allows any police officer, staff member or parent to view the skatepark on-line (www.ci.tukwila.wa.us/recreation/recskate.htm).

Fletcher says it's well-used and jokes, "I use it when I'm planning on riding my motorcycle into town to see if it's raining there."

The skatepark sits between the community center, the parking lot, baseball fields and a picnic area in a central hub. The tennis courts were taken out and retrofitted to accept the equipment -- a portable, pre-manufactured system by Huna Designs.

It's 6,000 square feet and features quarter pipes, ramps, grinding rails, fun boxes and other jumps and obstacles. It's unsupervised and skate-at-your-own risk.

Bikes are not allowed because of safety concerns and the insurance authority wouldn't allow it. Fletcher says he would like to do a separate bike park, but hasn't had a lot of demand for it. Fletcher adds that in-line skaters are allowed and the interaction between boards and skates has not been a problem.

"Once we decided that we were going to have it there, it took us literally three months to get it purchased, installed and opened," says Fletcher.

"When you open a skatepark, it's so dramatic -- people are itching and waiting to go once you open the gates. We had all the elected officials making their speeches and the kids just wanted to skate. As soon as we opened the door the kids screamed in there -- it was hilarious. A lot of times you'll have a grand opening at this beautiful park, and you'll get some people there, but it's not the dramatic, instant success."

When the skatepark was being proposed, Fletcher made sure to include important community representatives, even those who were skeptical, like the school district and police department.

"Skaters get a bad rap. They might look and talk funny, but they're just kids who want to have a recreational activity," says Fletcher.

"Ultimately, they saw that we were helping the kids. Plus, they saw kids and parents come in to testify how they needed it and how they get kicked out everywhere. The police chief was more cautious, but once we did our homework and talked about locking it at night and having a security officer or staff person check it, everyone got warm and fuzzy about it.

"If you can't convince those people, you probably haven't done your job. We believe in what we do wholeheartedly. You can't say my way or the highway. You have to look from the other perspective. Once you convince them, they are the biggest supporters, not just for that project, but for anything else. They need to see the proof -- why it's going to benefit the community and the kids."

As is the case from success stories around the country, the key contributors were the skaters themselves, who provided their skating preferences that went into the final design.

The success of this skatepark is leading Tukwila to consider a second skatepark in another part of town.