Both sides roll out arguments on proposed Skokie skate park
Mark Collins speaks in favor of a proposed skate park for the grounds of Lincoln Junior High School at an Oct. 3 public hearing at the school. District 69 parents, many of whom oppose the park, attended. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
WHAT: Proposed skate park
WHERE: Lincoln Junior High School, 7839 Lincoln Ave.
NEXT: The Skokie School District 69 Board will vote Oct. 16 and the Skokie Park Board Oct. 30.
Updated: November 12, 2012 6:10AM
SKOKIE — About 80 local residents passed on watching the national presidential debate Oct. 3 to participate in a more-local debate over a controversial proposed skate park for Lincoln Junior High School.
There was no debate winner by the end of the public hearing held in the school gymnasium; most participants would say that the winner won’t be known until Oct. 16 when the Skokie School District 69 Board votes on the project and then Oct. 30 when the Skokie Park Board does the same.
But both sides had their say at the spirited hearing as Park District and school-district officials paid close attention to all testimony both pro and con.
The skate park would be a joint effort among the Park District, school district and village, the latter of which would spend as much as $250,000 of downtown tax increment finance funds to help build it.
To the Park District, getting that downtown TIF money for the skate park is important, but only one good reason the skate-park project makes sense.
“If your community doesn’t have a skate park, your community is the skate park,” said Michelle Tuft, superintendent of recreation and facilities. “Skaters are forced to use the streets, parking lots, plazas because there are no facilities for them.”
Recognizing the increasing popularity of the sport, the Park District made building a skate park part of its 10-year plan. In 2008, parks officials “scoured the community” looking for locations, Tuft said. “We looked at some of our parks that are in our system and we also looked at property that might be available for sale. We didn’t really find any appropriate space in our prime parks.”
The one exception was the Skokie Sports Park on the east end of Oakton, but that site was not available because of complications with the Park District only leasing the property from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
In researching the project, the Park District toured skate parks in other communities with teenagers who participate in the sport. A later Park Board meeting including more input from children, which was used to draft a preliminary design of the park.
The Oct. 3 hearing reflected positive support for the skate park from nearby downtown institutions.
“For years in and around library property, we’ve seen kids skating,” said Skokie Library Director Carolyn Anthony.
Anthony said it’s an unsafe situation because kids skate in areas such as parking lots where cars are located.
“It’s made me so nervous because I thought that any day now something is going to happen and one of these kids is going to get hit,” she said. “I understand that they want to play and to have fun but that’s just not the place to do it. It’s just a bad mix of things going on there.”
Skokie Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Howard Meyer said he believes the skate park would increase foot traffic into downtown and be good for business.
Mark Collins, a Niles Township trustee speaking only as a Skokie resident, said no one will ever see him skating at the park, but he still supports the project.
“This is a safe environment for those kids who want to have fun,” Collins said.
One of the most impassioned defenses of the skate park came from Skokie Police Cmdr. Michael Pechter, who said one of his sons, an avid skater, would use the new facility.
Pechter said his son was kicked off library grounds because he had no other place to go.
“It’s a good, unique, creative use of unused (funds),” said Pechter, who also wanted to see a rest room built at the park.
But those who oppose the park, many of them District 69 parents, said they don’t doubt the need for a skate park — just its location.
“There’s a group of us who are not saying that skateboarders are bad,” said Patty O’Malley, a District 69 parent who reflected the position of other parents, as well. “What we’re saying is that this is not an appropriate place to put a skateboard park.”
O’Malley said her main concern is that the park will be located on school property.
“Our main goal is to enhance the educational experience of our children,” she said. “I ask that our school board make decisions based on that. To this day after six months of conversation ... I do not see what the educational impact on our kids will be with this skate park.”
Some parents also raised concerns about noise and the potential distraction of children in class. Proponents countered that other sources produce outside noise and are not problematic.
Julianne Arviza, who sits on the chamber board that endorsed the park, said she has mixed feelings. She believes the skate park is a good idea but is uncertain it belongs on school-district property, she said. She added that she believes District 69, which has had its share of financial problems, should be compensated.
Only one skateboarder spoke at the meeting, saying that people should not “live in fear” of what they don’t know.
Tuft said that national statistics show that skaters come from all ethnic backgrounds with the average age 14, 85 of percent of whom are male. About 4.6 percent of the population engage in the sport, which would project to 2,700 Skokie residents who potentially could have interest in the park, she said.