Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
City staff will be sitting down with local youth to iron out a plan for skatepark expansion.
At Monday’s meeting, council passed a motion to refer the design and location of the skatepark to staff, and have them confer with the group when preparing their recommendations. The move comes as the city decides how to spend $40,000 it has received from the auction of a car signed by Justin Bieber.
A group of skateboarders, BMX riders and rollerbladers about 40 strong filled council chambers, where group spokesperson Jordan Smail, 21, addressed the issue.
Smail noted for many youth, especially those who have problems at home or don’t fit in at school, a skatepark is a safe, comforting place.
“If it’s dry, and they’re not in school, they’re in the skatepark,” he said.
He suggested the current skatepark on Downie Street is not appealing and because of its location and condition, doesn’t feel safe to many users, including females. Smail -- who works with a not-for-profit mentoring organization called Skatelife -- urged council to think about the longterm vision for recreation in the city.
“A nice skatepark brings people into a community,” he said.
For example, he said when his family moved from Drumbo to British Columbia, his father selected their home based on its proximity to a good park so Smail would have a place to skate. He often travels to other cities to ride their parks, suggesting a properly established skatepark in Stratford could have the same appeal to outsiders. For example, he recently went on an overnight trip to Picton with 10 friends to visit the town’s $1.5 million skatepark.
“We spent several hundred dollars in Picton on food, gas and such,” he said.
With a population of only 4,000, Picton was able to build the park through aggressively seeking out grants and fundraising. Smail suggested Stratford take a similar approach, stating when he did a quick Google search he uncovered 25 different Canadian skatepark grants for which the city would be eligible.
“With that money, a much bigger park could be built that could attract people to Stratford, as well as make a safe spot for kids to participate in their sport,” he said.
He also urged council not to look at a skatepark as a stand alone venture, and that many successful parks have a multi-use component.
“A skatepark can be more than something for the young men of the community,” he said, noting playground equipment, splash pads, and workout areas have been combined with skateparks in many communities. “It’s a multi-generational site that builds community and brings people together.”
Though the city has only received $40,000 from Stratford Hyundai, a total of $80,000 has been pledged.
That money is enough to establish a small but permanent concrete park, but Smail would like council to think bigger.
Coun. Paul Nickel, chair of the community services subcommittee, said staff would be investigating grant options. He charged Smail with establishing a steering committee of local users who will work alongside staff throughout the process.
Coun. Kerry McManus suggested the skatepark fits in well with discussions about the future of the Cooper site, especially considering a heritage review of the property was recently completed.
Coun. Frank Mark supported the youth working with staff on the issue, but cautioned them it may be difficult to find a new location for the park.
Lucas Fisher, a local BMXer, said he wanted to be sure bike riders had full input and the conversation wasn’t dominated by skateboarders.
Coun. Martin Ritsma assured Fisher council was interested in hearing from all users and Smail agreed they would be included in the steering committe