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Skate-park enthusiasts face uphill battle
Skate-park enthusiasts face uphill battle
By SUE REID
Resident Robert Ross appealed to members of Solon City Council's safety and public properties committee last week to not take the "short-term easy solution" by closing the skate park at the Solon Community Park.
The park has been closed since March 27 after a fight broke out and Solon police were contacted. Four Solon teenagers were involved in the fight, and one used a skateboard as a weapon, according to Recreation Director Donald W. Holub.
The committee tabled the issue pending further input from Law Director David J. Matty. Officials said the park will remain closed until a solution is reached.
Councilman Edward K. Suit, who chairs the committee, said he does not think the city staff should be subjected to an unruly few who have threatened and abused employees.
"There are no such things as bad kids, but good kids making bad decisions," said Mr. Ross, an educator for the past 25 years, including nine years as a high school principal.
He said he was before the committee on behalf of his 12-year-old son, David, who "absolutely adores the skateboard." He does not excel at traditional sports like basketball or football, but he does at skateboarding, he said.
"He has hair down to his shoulders and an earring but is an 'A' student," Mr. Ross said, and he's a "great brother and great son." He gives his birthday money to the Cleveland Food Bank, his father said, as does many of his friends who frequent the skate park.
Mr. Ross said, if the city closes the skate park, skateboarders will go elsewhere. "I'm tired of driving to Lyndhurst, Hudson or Aurora to skate," he said.
"Parents should take responsibility to be there," Mr. Ross said. "It's not just a city issue, but a community issue."
Resident Betsi Staugh said the skaters who routinely use the park are "good kids. These are not rough kids." Her 17-year-old son, Jack, is an avid skateboarder, she said. "Skating is my son's sport. If you throw a ball at him, it will hit him in the face." He has long hair and "opens doors for women of all ages," she said.
"These are kids that, if you got to know them, talk about how tough it is to find a summer job," she said. "My son and his friends have not been in any trouble." Ms. Staugh said that not once has she seen police officers or recreation staff trying to get to know her son and his friends.
She said she has seen kids get in trouble at football games and be placed in the back of a police cruiser. "You're not going to stop playing football in Solon," Ms. Staugh said. "We seem to be applying harsh reactions to a couple of fights," she said.
"I respectfully request to keep that skate park open and accessible to young people," she said.
Mr. Holub told Ms. Staugh that, while he may not know her son personally, the skate park was built with the intent of giving those youth who are interested in the nontraditional sport a venue.
"Do we want to keep it open? Absolutely," Mr. Holub said. "We don't want all our hard work creating it go to waste. I don't have the answers."
"I know this is not an easy decision for you," Councilman and committee member William I. Russo said to Mr. Holub. "You are doing your best to find a solution." This is "prime season" for skateboarding, he said, so the hope is a solution could be found.
Mr. Russo said the situation with the skate park is a "much larger societal issue where parents don't take responsibility.
"By taking the easy way out, we are penalizing those who use it appropriately," Mr. Russo said.
His concern is that if the city closes it, the kids causing the problems will go elsewhere, he said. "Shutting the skate park is the easy way out, and I would not support it."
Mr. Suit said that, unfortunately, not all parents take responsibility the same way.
"Closing it to me is not an option," Councilman and committee member Edward H. Kraus said. "The message I want to send the youth is that the few will not ruin it for the majority," he said.
"It's part of our recreation," Mr. Kraus said. "We set it as a priority. Let's make it work."
Mr. Suit said that, much to his surprise in speaking with Mr. Matty, the law director, a skate park is listed under the Ohio Revised Code as a government function. That is why Mr. Matty was against having a monitor at the park, which was suggested by the recreation staff as an option, he said. "If there is a monitor, it will decrease our governmental immunity we are entitled to."
Mr. Holub said Mr. Matty informed him the use of monitors would leave the city liable for accidents, injuries and damages. The city's insurance carrier reiterated that view, he said.
Mr. Holub and Russell J. Schneider, assistant director of recreation, met with Mr. Matty to discuss the future of the park and presented him with four options.
The first was to limit the hours at the park with monitoring, which Mr. Matty advised against. The others were open the park with security cameras, open it with limited supervision of employees or close it. Of the four, the recreation department favored the first two options, Mr. Holub said.
Mr. Schneider said he has had numerous meetings with the kids who use the skate park and told them to "clean up your act or we'll have to close this place.
"Unless you restrict people who use the inside of the park and allow no one but active participants, the trouble will not end." Mr. Schneider said the only solution is to have someone stationed at the park and have restricted hours. Too many of the youth causing trouble are "nonparticipants," he said.
"If we close the skate park, we may not solve the problem but push it to other parts of the community," Mr. Russo said. "We need to look at the big picture."
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