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[whitespace] Council crafts an escape clause into its skate park commitment

Los Gatos--Following a consultant's final presentation, the Los Gatos Town Council made some important--albeit open-ended--decisions about a skate park at Vasona Lake County Park.

After affirming their commitment to pursuing the skate park, council members unanimously voted to place temporary wood ramps on a concrete lot at a specific location in the park, if the county agrees to it. The park, bordering Vasona Reservoir, is owned by Santa Clara County, and any changes to it would need the approval of county officials.

The major caveat, however, was funding. Fundraising for the project would be a responsibility of both the town and the public; the town would shoulder half of the $250,000 cost by matching the funds raised, and then handle future recurring maintenance costs.

Council members called their decision a "commitment with strings." If, at any point during the process, the town finds that the cost exceeds its budget, or it is unsatisfied for any reason, the council can change its decision to move forward.

"A commitment tonight is to pursuing the skate park to the end--if all the components come together," said Mayor Joe Pirzynski at the Sept. 17 town council meeting.

Consultant Bruce Playle, of Indigo/Hammond & Playle Architects, presented his findings in a report to the town council. Of the three siting options that he had presented to the council more than three months ago, Playle found the most ideal spot was north of the town-owned Oak Meadow Park, immediately southwest of Vasona and near an existing picnic shelter.

That site, Playle wrote, was "relatively close-at-hand to Oak Meadow Park for supervision and service access purposes," and had little "encroachment into Vasona Lake Park." Use of the site would not require the destruction of the picnic shelter and has space for the 12,000-square-foot skate park, with 4,000 additional square feet for possible future expansion.

Playle told council members that he had studied the recently opened Santa Cruz "Fun Spot" skate park as a possible example for the Los Gatos design. The facility consists of several wood ramps on an asphalt lot with appropriate lighting, spectator bleachers and a surrounding fence.

Wood ramps are the least costly in initial construction costs when compared to permanent concrete or steel structures, Playle said, but are more expensive in the long run because of replacement and maintenance costs. After 35 years, wood ramps prove to be more costly than permanent ones. Also, wood ramps typically have a life of eight years, while concrete ramps are permanent.

"I've been attracted to the question of the temporary, the wood form, because it has flexibility. And you're projecting this 35 years downstream, in terms of where the cost recovery is, and I'm trying to imagine anything that kids relate to that you can see 35 years of stability attached to it," Pirzynski said. Pirzynski pointed to an evolution in the way skate ramps are built, as well as changes in skating styles, as reasons for temporary ramps instead of permanent.

Other council members agreed with Pirzynski. Councilman Steve Glickman said that having concrete ramps would commit the town to one design and leave no room to adapt to changes in skating that will occur in the future.

Playle added that the design process would include input from youth. The town will hold two workshops in which "kids are actually molding stuff in sand and clay, and we'll get all sorts of good ideas," Playle said. "It's a really good ... lesson in civics for kids to know that they can actually be involved in something really positive and just fun to use," Playle said.

Playle's report indicated that construction and site improvement costs for the temporary facility would come out to approximately $250,000 and that there would be about $55,000 in annual operation and maintenance costs. Those recurring costs include money for supervisory staff, electricity and water, asphalt paving and maintenance. The skate park would be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays year-round, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays during the school year, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. during summer weeks.

Town council members, faced with the decision of whether or not to commit $180,000 for the skate park, were united in their opinion that a "public-private partnership" would be necessary to obtain the money. The town will look for financial assistance from private organizations and corporate donations, as well as public participation in preparing the site when the time comes.

"We would not be doing this if we did not see these facilities as a community benefit," Glickman said.

Councilman Steve Blanton said that he would commit only if all the funding was secured before construction began. "You don't build a piece of it and wait for another $10,000 to come in and build another piece," Blanton said.

"We know of organizations out there that took 10 years to raise funds for a particular project that just now is going to be complete," said Councilman Randy Attaway. Attaway said that he did not want the same to happen to the town's skate park.

The next step is for the town to take bids from designers. Town Manager Debra Figone said that she would put out a request for design architects, and hopefully have one secured by an October town council meeting.

In December, town officials will make a presentation at the county's parks meeting. In the meantime, Pirzynski, Figone and other town staff will continue to work with Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage for the county's input on the skate park. Pirzynski said that so far, county representatives have been positive about the project, but they could not make official decisions until the town made a formal commitment.
Gloria I. Wang

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Web extra to the September 27-October 3, 2001 issue of Metro.

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