By Erick Gill
Many people don't like to have their picture taken, especially when it comes to photo ID badges. But the parks and recreation staff members in St. Lucie County, Fla., found an exception to that rule when it began requiring photo ID badges for the Lawnwood Skate Park.
"The younger skaters (under age 10) think ID cards are rad," says Debra Brisson, St. Lucie County Parks and Recreation director. "Usually it's the first photo ID that they have ever gotten, kind of like a first driver’s license."
When the department opened its concrete skate park in June 2008, cards were required for all skateboarders and inline skaters to make sure liability waivers were signed and on file. Access into the park is free, and random checks ensure skaters are following the rules. Helmets and shirts are required attire for skaters at all times. Elbow and knee pads are optional, but recommended.
After the first year of operation, county staff members decided that the skate cards weren't working. When employees checked on skaters who weren't wearing helmets, they had no way to determine the true identity of the skater. If a skater’s privileges were revoked, he or she found a way around the system and back into the skate park.
"We went to photo ID cards because skaters were passing IDs to others, which meant--in some instances--skaters were using the park without having a liability waiver on file," Brisson explains. "Also, this allows our staff to go out to complete random checks for cards and truly learn who the skaters are. In the past, some skaters were giving wrong names if they were caught doing something against the park rules."
Overhead And Revenue
The photo ID cards cost $10 for county residents and $20 for non-residents, and they are valid for one calendar year. Visitors also can purchase a one-day pass for $5 (no photo ID necessary; however, a signed waiver is still required). In addition, any county student who receives free lunch through the school system can obtain a skate card at no cost. Those under the age of 18 must have a parent or legal guardian with them when registering. The cards are issued by the county’s parks and recreation department, which is housed directly in front of the skate park. Copies of the liability waiver are available on the county's Web site (www.stlucieco.gov/parks/skatepark.htm). The ID cards required the department to purchase a small camera and a printer to issue the cards at a cost of roughly $3,500. In 2009, when the photo ID skate cards were introduced, more than 1,100 cards were issued (908 to St. Lucie County residents and 250 to non-residents). Halfway through 2010, 422 resident cards have been issued along with151 non-resident cards.
Safe And Secure
"Generally, the reaction to photo ID cards has been good," Brisson adds. "Parents love that we require them because they provide an additional level of security.”
Due to staff limitations, the skate park is primarily unsupervised. However, staff members monitor the park by randomly stopping by to check IDs. When heavy traffic is expected--such as spring break or the first few weeks of summer--a staff person is temporarily assigned to check photo IDs at the gate. Gates to the fenced-in facility open at 8 a.m. and close at dusk. Additional security is provided via video cameras, mounted on the recreation center in front of the skate park.
"You have to have some oversight at a skate park--either paid staff or volunteers to help monitor activities and enforce the rules," says Brisson. "Otherwise, you can quickly lose the park to undesirables. It is also important to have the support of local law enforcement to assist in random checks. Their support really helps to set the tone of what is going to be acceptable behavior at the skate park."
Design And Build
If you are considering building a skate park for the first time, Brisson recommends a concrete park. While the initial costs might be higher, the maintenance costs are minimal. The price tag for Lawnwood was just under $500,000. Brisson also suggests hiring "a reputable contractor with experience in constructing skate parks." The county’s park was built by Team Pain, a Florida company that has built skate parks for some of the world's top skateboarding companies and professional riders. The design came from input provided by a citizen-advisory committee, made up of both young and old skateboarders from the area.
"This was so important in getting a final product that is acceptable and will be used," Brisson says."You have to involve the local skateboarding community … because it allows them to take ownership of the final product."
Rob Perkins, owner of Undercover Skate Shop in Fort Pierce, served on the advisory committee, and was one of the more vocal members that pushed to hire a company that specialized in building skate parks versus a general contractor, which might have been cheaper, but may not have delivered a quality park.
"Skateboarders are a very diverse group within themselves. Some skaters prefer riding ramps or transitions, and others prefer more street-type obstacles, such as ledges or hand rails," says Perkins. "We asked local skaters for creative input and put something together that ended up being a very unique skate park."
Another important lesson, Brisson stresses, which isn't always easy for governments to do, is to be flexible.
"You really need to allow yourself the flexibility to make changes to the design even right up through the construction phase," she says.
Since Team Pain is a company comprised of skateboarders, construction crews made design changes while the concrete was still being poured. And as soon as the concrete dried, workers were often seen riding the hardened surface, much to the disappointment of local skaters, who were waiting behind the fence for the park to open. Crews began working on the project in early 2008 with a projected completion date of July. However, when it was finished in late April, county staff members agreed to open it before the scheduled grand opening because they had to keep chasing out skateboarders, who were climbing the fence.
"We ended up having a soft opening because we felt bad for all the kids (and the adults) who were just so excited to get out there and skate this new park," recalls Brisson.
In the end, the county ended up with the region's most popular concrete skate park, which features a shallow and deep-bowl area, several handrails and stairs, concrete banks, ledges and humps and a bricked bank area. Shade sails were added to the flat area to give skaters some relief from Florida's relentless sun, and the parks department constructed a covered 10-foot by 20-foot pavilion with a picnic table for spectators.
"The skate park has been a tremendous success," adds Perkins. "Skateboarders of all ages travel from all over the state to ride our local park. I believe that the true potential of the skate park is far from realized yet."
Perkins is hoping to expand the park. Designs were provided for an additional pool/bowl area; however, the final plans were scaled back due to budget constraints. He and others are also hoping to add lights at the park to allow skaters cooler night-time sessions. But he knows that the skating community can't rely on the local government to foot the entire bill.
"With a long-term collective effort between the county, local businesses and local skateboarders, the skate park could potentially be a huge economic draw for the area by hosting large-scale competitions and professional contest tours."
For now, skaters will just have to be content with getting their pictures taken for photo IDs and riding one of the best outdoor skate parks in the state.
For more information, visit www.stlucieco.gov/parks/skatepark.htm.
Erick Gill is the public information officer for St. Lucie County. He is a former newspaper reporter and a born-again skateboarder. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.