Backers of upgraded skate park continue campaign for city to take action

Proponents of an effort to rebuild Philomath’s 21-year-old skate park have done their best to attract the attention of the community and its city leaders to eliminate what they see as a major safety risk while opening up the space to all ages, all skills and all types of riders.

Dan Miller, who moved to Philomath from northern Virginia earlier this year, provided comments at a June 14 City Council meeting on his fears about the current facility and was also among those holding up signs during a June 21 demonstration in front of City Hall along Applegate Street.

“Our kids need a safe place because the park that’s in there now is not safe,” Miller said.

In fact, Miller can recall what he was thinking when he first saw the structure that’s located in Philomath City Park.

“My first reaction was this is an accident waiting to happen,” he said.

Another Philomath resident who was at the June 21 demonstration, Kirby Phelps, had similar views.

Editor’s Note: More news out of the June 28 meeting, as well as a June 30 meeting, will be published in the coming days.

“We’re here to help see if we can get an action park built for Philomath,” said Phelps, who has a background in action sports, including as a professional snowboarder. “The skate park that is there right now is not safe — it’s a liability to be honest with you. I see kids going over there all the time and mostly they’re just sitting there doing nothing because there’s nothing really to ride on.”

Izzie Elliott, who helped establish the Build A Better Skatepark group, or BABS, and serves on the Philomath Park Advisory Board, has been vocal about the need to upgrade the action skate park — a term that is now preferred to include not only skateboarders and inline skaters, but BMX bikes and scooters.

Liam Gaskill, 16, said he broke his collarbone while riding in the park. Wally Maness, 16, said he’s been hurt several times and has seen many others crash as well.

“I think we could have some improvements for sure,” Maness said. “There are plenty of people hurting themselves as it is right now.”

Both Gaskill and Maness said there is almost always someone at the skate park and that the facility is being used.

Philomath Skate Park
The Philomath Skate Park opened during the summer of 2000. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Elliott wanted to see money earmarked for the skate park upgrades in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget that went before the City Council on Monday night for approval. City councilors Catherine Biscoe and Jessica Andrade have shown support for the proposal for immediate funding to get the project on wheels.

Jon Pheanis of Moore Iacofano Goltsman (MIG), a consultant who was hired to organize this year’s Park Master Plan update process, told council members at Monday’s meeting that an online questionnaire had more than 800 respondents as part of the needs assessment phase.

Moore said the survey showed that 60% of respondents would like to see connected trails for walking, biking and running and 54% are hoping for better access to water or natural areas. As for top funding priorities, 54% of respondents want to see existing parks and facilities improved. “The survey showed that a lot of people are interested in a skate park,” City Manager Chris Workman said during a June 25 interview. “It also showed a lot of people are interested in walking trails and biking trails, jogging trails. There are a lot of people in the community that are interested in access to Marys River and natural areas and making improvements there.”

Pheanis said he expects to provide a draft Park Master Plan in the late summer to early fall.

“The critical next step in this process is for us to instill all of that information to find out what’s the most important, what’s going to be phased, what can happen now versus 10 years from now — and what can we afford, how do we pay for these things?” Pheanis said.

Elliott, during a public hearing on the budget on June 14, suggested that the city find money in its budget to go toward skate park improvements by putting a Philomath City Park restroom project on hold.

Workman said there are plans to upgrade the park’s restrooms — the main ones located near the primary playground — to become ADA-compliant. Another set of restrooms located near a shelter in the back of the park are not in use because of structural cracking. ADA-compliant restrooms are located in Randy Kugler Community Shelter but there is no public access unless it’s being rented.

The main restroom project was included in a 2016 Park Master Plan update and in the Capital Improvement Project list for the 2020-21 fiscal year — although it did not materialize for various reasons.

“We collected funds from the Newton Creek Estates subdivision, we took payment in lieu of a park in their subdivision, to go towards improvements to City Park,” Workman said, citing a figure of $60,000. “That project has been identified and vetted and we’ve had opportunities for public testimony about public restrooms … it’s already gone through that process. To pull money away from that project now, we’d have to have something pretty substantial to do that.”

Workman acknowledges that a lot of people are showing support for the skate park improvements but said it needs to go through the same type of vetting process as the restrooms project.

“It’s not an either-or, we can do both,” he said. “The fact that we’re doing the restrooms this year doesn’t mean we can’t do something with the skate park at some point in the future.”

Workman said he encourages BABS to continue its efforts to publicize the need for skate park improvements so it stays in the forefront.

“Once the Park Master Plan is done, the City Council can help prioritize the list of projects that we’re going to work on in the future,” he said.

Andrade and Biscoe submitted a letter to the city staff recommending specific actions to support the skate park improvement project, including a request to allocate at least $10,000 to “show a financial commitment by the city to support this effort.”

Biscoe said the council should be responsive to a community that is asking for skate park improvements.

“We certainly have the option to pull that from many locations (in the budget) but Mr. Workman decided not to have that conversation with us,” Biscoe said.

Councilors Ruth Causey and David Low showed support for the skate park but both said it needs to go through the public process.

“We need a clear plan, we need the Park Master Plan updated and I would be happy to see this in the Strategic Plan but I think this is premature,” Causey said, adding that a conversation should begin as early as July to see what possible funding resources could be utilized.

Andrade disagreed and believes moving forward would not be premature.

“The request for funding is simply not to show good faith, it is also to help them in their effort with their fundraising and building support for this project,” she said, adding that it seems fairly straightforward and logical to at least include the skate park upgrade in the Strategic Plan.

“I know that the survey definitely showed there was a great deal of support for the skate park but we haven’t really put that as a proposal against anything else the public may want through a public hearing or anything about this,” Low pointed out. “I think there’s still a process. … I appreciate the intent I hear but there are more steps to do before we get there.”

Councilor Matt Lehman suggested that the $10,000 in funding be approved to produce an engineering report on what it would cost to refurbish or completely replace the skate park, rather than view it as a funding source for a to-be-determined group that’s going to put together a plan for the project.

Joan Swanson, finance director, told councilors that “if you want to support an engineering report, that is spending money; that would be a way to put it into the budget. Just putting a dollar amount in just to say we support something is not what budget law is all about.”

A series of motions followed with Mayor Chas Jones asking for a vote on Biscoe’s motion that was on the table for a $10,000 allocation, which she agreed to be amended with Lehman’s proposal to earmark the money for an engineering report. The motion failed on a 4-3 vote (Andrade, Biscoe, Lehman voting yes; Causey, Jones, Low and Teresa Nielson voting no).

Later on, the council voted 5-2 to adopt a $28,451,490 budget for 2021-22 fiscal year.

A side conversation that — based on various comments during meetings — appears to be connected to the skate park issue involves the Park Advisory Board’s duties. According to city code, the Park Advisory Board is supposed to make recommendations to the Public Works Committee. However, since it was formed in 2015, the board has reported directly to the City Council.

Workman said he’s seen no issues with the current setup and believes it eliminates an unnecessary level of bureaucracy that’s not needed in a community of Philomath’s size. He believes model code language was likely taken from a larger city with a significant number of advisory committees and recommended Philomath’s municipal code language be amended to reflect the current practice.

Biscoe said, “There are a lot of concerns about how the Park Advisory Board is being administered” and several points of view were shared later in the meeting with the topic listed as a separate agenda item.

Andrade, Biscoe and Causey represent the City Council on the Public Works Committee.

In the end, a motion passed by a 4-3 margin for the City Council to discuss the matter in a July 26 work session with the Public Works Committee and the Park Advisory Board.

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