The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 4, 2013

Conneaut skate park is nearing extinction

Staff Writer

CONNEAUT — After many reprieves, it appears Conneaut’s municipal skate park has seen its last frontside and backside maneuvers.

A majority of City Council members favor permanently shutting down the controversial park, based on a comments made at a Monday night finance/ordinance committee meeting. The park, located at the east end of Jefferson Street, has been closed for the season the past several weeks.

Ward 1 Councilman Doug Hedrick broached the subject after saying he had recently received a fresh batch of complaints. “I think we should close it down,” he said.

Others shared that opinion.

“It’s high time to get rid of it,” said Councilman-at-large Neil LaRusch. “It’s a black eye on the community. Why push the headache any further? It hasn’t gotten any better.”

A formal vote on the status of the park could come at Monday’s regular meeting. “I could support shutting it down,” said Council President Thomas Udell.

The park has seen a rocky history since it opened in 2003. Vandalism and abuse of equipment have forced city officials to lock the gates on numerous occasions. More recently, an abandoned house adjoining the park had been a haven for criminal activity, officials have said. Hopes for the park’s future were buoyed when the house was purchased and repaired, but the complaints keep coming, officials said.

“I keep my kids away from it,” LaRusch said. “It’s a harbor for crime.”

Hedrick agreed.

“Would I let my kid go there?” he said. “I would not.”

Ward 2 Councilman Phil Garcia also said it’s time for the park to go.

“We should put our money into other parks,” he said. “We’re beating a dead horse down there.”

There’s also concerns with the condition of the equipment — including ramps and rails — in the park. Many of the pieces need repair or replacement to make it safe. City Manager Tim Eggleston said Monday he understood a few people would be willing to repair the gear.

But problems extend beyond skater safety, council said. Younger kids who use the park have been intimidated by older ones, and now other residents are starting to suffer, members said.

“The intimidation is bleeding out into the neighborhood,” Hedrick said.

Someone who has watched the decline of the skate park is Kathy Pape, executive director of the Conneaut Public Library, which sits a few steps away. The library has dealt with a number of disturbances and problems as a result of the park’s close proximity, she said Tuesday.

“We did see kids using the library because of the skate park, and there have been blessings and challenges as a result,” Pape said. “It’s been a rollercoaster.”

Part of the problem is the park’s “horrible” location at the end of a dead-end street next to railroad tracks, Pape said. “It’s sad that a park dedicated to children just can’t work,” she said.

Pape said a new  skate park, built with grants, could be a worthwhile community project. “It could be a park everyone could be proud of and an asset to the city,” she said.