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Skate Park plan rolls forward

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By Marganne Glasser

Los Alamos County Council’s approval Tuesday to proceed to the 60-percent design phase of the skate park met with audience applause. The project is on track for completion in August at a price tag of just under a half-million dollars.Council Chairman Jim Hall called the revised plans “outstanding design.”During public commentary, Greg Kendall said, “It will liven up an underwhelming part of our town.  I think it’s going to be fantastic.”Greg Miller and Rob Loftis of Artifex Skatepark Environments, a division of the landscape design firm Morrow Reardon Wilkinson Miller, Ltd., of  Albuquerque, were on hand to explain the design changes in response to community input at a meeting  March 27.“In skate parks, less is more,” Miller said, explaining that skaters need space to exit one obstacle, and recover and prepare for the next. The new design will direct the momentum of skaters exiting obstacles toward the middle of the park, minimizing the chances of runaway skateboards running into pedestrians along the perimeter. A concrete bowl with a 4-foot elevation and smooth finish has been added to ramp up the challenge level, and three elevated benches have been removed to improve access to the volcano obstacle, he said.Architectural elements were added to help contain skating within the park, Miller continued. All entryways will have detectable warning pavers, the knobby bricks that are noisy and bumpy. The pedestrian walkway will have a rough broom finish, which makes for unpleasant skating and improved safety in wet or snowy weather. The upward slope of the area closest to library drive means that gravity and the preferred direction of skating will decrease the likelihood of skaters escaping in that direction. Miller said further design modifications could include a deeper landscape barrier as well. According to the plan, a 4-foot-tall fence has been added between the park and the tot lot.  The design of skating obstacles in the northwest corner has been simplified so it can serve double duty as a stage, enhancing the mixed-use aspect of the park. Electricity will be available for use by small musical combos or a PA system.The revised plan includes two kinds of lighting intended to minimize vandalism and allow for nighttime dimming to a level adequate for security – but reducing night sky interference. Thirty-inch high Bollard lights will increase visibility along the pedestrian way and two pole lights will be added in the sculpture area. The lights will be on a timer system and the fire department can override it.Miller expressed enthusiasm for the uniqueness of the park site. “It looks like we snuck a skate park in the middle of the forest,” he said. County Councilor Fran Berting expressed strong concern for preserving the existing tall conifers.“Those are magnificent trees,” Miller said. “As landscape architects we’ll do all we can to preserve and protect them.” Removable fences will be set up around them before construction. Miller recommended that more be planted, as they die off at the end of their natural lifespan.During the public comment session, Manuel Baca, Patricia Max and other community members expressed high enthusiasm.But Jack Hanlon, who lives half a block away from the park site, said he felt it “has been crammed down our throat since the very beginning,” and that it was like building a $500,000 house in the middle of the city dump. He felt that the noise issue had not been adequately addressed and expressed concern that people would be subject to noise at all hours during most of the year.The motion to approve was passed 5-to-1 with Councilor Nona Bowman voting against. Although she has wanted a skate park all along, she said that she feels safety issues of the tot lot, inadequate protection for pedestrians and the noise issue have not been adequately addressed.Councilor Jim West registered his yes vote by conference call.County Administrator Max Baker addressed concerns about whether the county was adhering to its own procedural regulations. He explained that the county has two roles: owner and regulator. The owner role covers the design to council review phase, and the regulatory role is activated in order to secure approval after the Planning and Zoning department reviews the plan for drainage, zoning and landscaping issues.Community Services Director Stephani Johnson said that new county regulations are planned that will give the police department power to revoke access to the park for rowdy or loud behavior. The risk management division has determined that BMX bikes are not a safe use of the planned park. In other business, the council approved a motion to proceed to the next phase of demolishing the county building and proceeding with the next step of a capital loan of just under $1,500,000 to WorldScape, a high-tech media visualization technology firm.