Rip, Roaring Fun

It’s not the highest point in the state. But, strap on a set of inline skates, jump on a skateboard or hit the saddle of your BMX bike and that 12-foot drop to the bottom of Central Skate Park Plaza - Bolingbrook, Illinois’ newest skatepark -- looks downright scary.

“You’d have to see the lay of it to understand,” says Mark Peterson, president of Midwest Sales Company, the distributor who sold the Solo Ramps system to the park district. “It looks like a tennis racket sort of chopped up a bit on the edges.”

And, oh yeah, did we mention, it’s not flat.

“There’s four levels,” says Peterson. “If you’re standing on the sidewalk level, you’re 12 feet lower then the highest level. The differences between the levels themselves may be three feet or two feet or four feet so you have plenty of room to gather your composure between transitions.”

In other words, you can come screaming down the 12 foot vertical, but not in one straight shot – and probably not without hitting one of the 79 elements that make up the new park.

East End Project

Bolingbrook Parks and Recreation services a population of nearly 69,000 in this growing community 28 miles southwest of Chicago.

The CentralPark SkatePlaza (one of 40 projects green-lighted and fast tracked when the park district’s referendum passed in 2004) filled a need for an east-end skatepark to complement the existing and popular west-end park (Indian Boundary Park).

“The citizens wanted another skatepark,” says Janet Cherbak, Project Manager for Bolingbrook Park District, “and we agreed. But, we wanted to do something different use a different type of material, a different manufacturer.”

Their current park (Indian Boundary) was constructed with the more conventional laminated, wood ramp system. Cherbak and her crew were looking for something that would better represent the city, something that would give users the same experience they were looking for when they illegally skated on the library steps or in the parking lots around city hall.

They found what they were looking for while touring the floor of the Illinois Parks and Recreation show.

“We were attracted by the qualities of the concrete ramp system Solo Ramps had on display,” says Cherbak. “We were really impressedby what appeared to be an extremely durable system and we felt the look and feel of the material really fit in well with our city which is a well-maintained urban environment.”

Location, Location, Location

It turns out the old real estate maxim holds true for skatepark design as well. It’s all about location, location, location.

In this case, Bolingbrook had some empty land adjacent to its Building and Grounds Facility and one of its two community centers (Annerino Community Center – 46,887 square foot recreation center).

“We wanted to maximize the play value of the space,” says Cherbak, “which meant any money we saved on parking, concrete, walkways, etc. could be put directly into the play equipment.”

The space they decided upon allowed them to do exactly that. There was plenty of parking at the nearby community center (they did decide to add 10 spaces), they did not fence the park in (it is close enough to high traffic areas to be naturally policed), they did not light the park (also helps with security issues) and they did not have to build access roads (the location is serviced by major roadways and a series of bike trails for those who cannot drive).

Plus, the topography of the land was such that they could build a multi-level, tiered park.

“We ordered a topographic survey to show the grade changes in the landscape,” says Cherbak, “and we wanted to utilize the highest parts of the berm to make it multi-level and we wanted to do something more interesting than a rectangle.”

Not necessarily an easy task, but with effective communication (Cherbak says to make sure you have your metric conversion charts handy – Solo Ramps is headquartered in Quebec) all parties worked seamlessly to finish the space on time.

Total time from start to finish (from the time ground was broken) was three months. Total cost of the project was $340,000.

Grand Opening Insurance Policy

As the concrete elements were being bolted and glued to the concrete slabs and the installer was busy grinding and sanding away any rough edges, the Bolingbrook grounds crew graded the surrounding land and seeded the area to prep it for the October 1st grand opening.

With only 30-45 days to work with and wanting to have the park look finished for the grand opening (no matter how good the park looks, if its surrounded by dirt, it just won’t look finished), Chris Martner, Grounds Foreperson at Bolingbrook Park District and her crew brought out their secret weapon – erosion control blankets.

“We think establishing turf with an erosion control blanket (regardless of whether or not there is a grade change) is a great insurance policy,” says Cherbak. “We even use it on flat ground because we think it works so much better. For example, even when you go to establish a prairie, you have expensive seed and want to make sure it stays down and in place.”

Needless to say, the park has been a big success and opening day was a hit – due in large part to established turf around the plaza.

Daily Maintenance – Graffiti Patrol

For the most part, the first few months of operation have gone smoothly for the folks at Bolingbrook – though Cherbak does tell the story of catching a vandal red handed.

“I was coming back from a meeting in the afternoon and I saw someone shaking a can of spray paint,” says Cherbak. “Now mind you, I can see the park from my office window and there are park personnel coming and going all the time, so I’m not sure what this kid was thinking. But, he walked away from his friends and sprayed a big mark on one of the ramps. I couldn’t believe my eyes. So, I walked up to him, I had a big roll of drawings in my hand and said, ‘what are you doing?’ He stopped in his tracks, paint can in hand. So, I took the paint from him, snapped a photo of him with my camera phone and went to talk with my supervisor. My supervisor called the police who came and arrested the boy.”

But that, according to Cherbak is really the only incident they’ve had. And, like parks and recreation departments everywhere, they believe the secret to graffiti is to clean it up immediately.

“The secret with concrete, if the normal graffiti removers don’t work, is to sandblast the paint mark off. Or, if you can’t sandblast it immediately, paint over the damage with concrete colored paint until you can,” says Cherbak. “Of course, you can only sandblast so many times before you ruin the riding surface.”

Not that the folks at Bolingbrook plan to turn sandblasting into a daily job. The location of the park, the material it’s made from, the routine visits from police and the sheer popularity of the multi-level experience work to keep vandals at bay. They’re too busy having fun.