Residents, city clash over skate park

Published 10:44 am Friday, June 26, 2009

IRONTON — A group of residents disappointed in the city’s decision to build a proposed skateboard park adjacent to their homes voiced their frustrations to the mayor and city council Thursday night.

At issue with several homeowners is Mayor Rich Blankenship’s choice to build the proposed Ironton Skate Park facility on city property at the corner of North Fourth and Etna streets. Residents say that, if built, the skate park would decrease neighborhood home values, increase an already growing crime rate and eliminate whatever green space the current park property has.

“I am a little concerned with a skate park going down there,” said homeowner Tom Schwab, who does support the idea of a skate park somewhere in Ironton. “This is a family park and it seems like they want to turn it into a skate park only. We don’t have a lot of parks left in the city.”

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Schwab asked Blankenship and council if they would consider moving the proposed Ironton Skate Park to another part of the city or to a different locale on the property. He said much of the green space the skate park is going to consume is used regularly for soccer, baseball and whiffleball games.

As it stands the skate park is going to be built on the far southeast side of the property. Schwab asked if it could be moved to the southwest side of the property – a request Blankenship said could not be done.

“I’ve moved it as far as I can move it,” the mayor explained while using a blackboard to show council how the skate park would be positioned.

As for moving to a different location within the city, Blankenship said he had studied every possible location for the skate park and the central location the Fourth and Etna site offers was considered the best.

Etna Street homeowner Bennie Blankenship said the threat of increased crime, constant foul language and the blatant disregard to the posted park hours has him very concerned the skate park would be a bad idea for the neighborhood.

Blankenship is not related to the mayor.

While Police Chief Jim Carey did acknowledge that “a lot of suspicious activity” goes on at the park, council and the mayor said they would look into increasing the law enforcement presence in the area – something Carey said was successful in reducing crime at the Ninth Street Park.

The mayor also added that new and larger signs would be posted for those using the park. City ordinance lists park hours as 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

While city council wasn’t directly involved in the planning or site selection of the skate park, they did offer some advice from time to time during the debate.

Councilman Butch Huff told those nervous about the skate park at Fourth and Etna to consider the possible advantages of it.

“There could be a positive effect with more parents and children the new skate park could bring down,” Huff said in explaining how parents could curb some of the foul language and other issues the park currently is saddled with.

Following nearly two years of fundraising and planning, the proposed Ironton Skate Park is starting to carve itself into something tangible. Today, Blankenship will be ordering $23,800 worth of equipment from Joplin, Mo., based American Ramp Company for design and construction of the skate park.

Blankenship highlighted one perk ARC can offer Ironton is a “matching” dollar-for-dollar program to cities that have been awarded monetary grants for skate parks by the Tony Hawk Foundation.

Early this year, the city received a $5,000 grant from the foundation set up by the professional skateboarder. Launched in 2002, the foundation awards grants between $5,000 and $25,000 to communities looking to expand skateboarding within their region.

Blankenship said ARC would match the $5,000 with material donations.

Today’s order follows more than $20,000 worth of new playground and park equipment the city has installed at the Etna Street Park. It was the first new order of equipment at the park since the early 1970’s.

As for the concrete work needed for the skate park, the mayor added that a bid package will soon be drafted and advertised. City ordinance mandates any projects or purchases estimated to cost more than $25,000 require the project to be placed out for bid.

The ARC share of the project is estimated to come well under $25,000.

The skate park got jump started in July 2008 when Judge David Payne and the Probate/Juvenile Court gave a $13,000 grant to the city’s recreation department. The grant, allocated through the Lawrence County Department of Youth Services, is geared towards providing activities to help keep youngsters from getting in trouble with the law.

In November, the city’s recreation department was awarded a $30,000 grant through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources NatureWorks program.

Both grants were designed and written that monies allocated from them are to be used exclusively for the skate park.

Other major donations include $2,000 from a benefit concert at Frog Town and a $1,000 donation by the Child Welfare Club in March.