A question that is often asked in South Carolina cities and towns is "Should we be in the skatepark business?"
Historically, skateboarding has been nothing more than a fad, hitting a fever pitch at least once with each generation that passed. But skateboarding’s popularity with today’s youth seems to be more than a passing fad. It has developed its own culture and lifestyle.
With the rise in popularity of skateboarding, municipalities struggle to balance between providing places to skate and keeping citizens who have no interest in skateboarding from complaining about the nuisance that unwanted skating can bring. From creating a hazard on public sidewalks to creating minor property damage in city garages and public areas, skaters are often an unwelcomed group in our cities and towns.
So instead of turning a blind eye toward the nuisances that skaters may cause, many local governments have begun to directly address the problem. Many have passed ordinances prohibiting skateboarding in public parks or sidewalks. Others have stepped up nuisance enforcement. But a growing number of municipalities are turning toward opening skateparks and providing an outlet for these skaters.
Columbia, Aiken, Mount Pleasant, Gaffney, Port Royal and Spartanburg are among a group of municipalities that have opened, or will be opening, skateparks. These skateparks range from elaborate (with professionally made ramps, supervision and a fee for entering) to simple (providing an open area to skate with little to no improvements and no supervision.) Which type of park works best is often a question of local preference and budgetary constraints.
"We’ve seen both work well," said Jeff Thompson, assistant director of risk management services. "The SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund currently excludes liability coverage for skateparks because most municipalities do not have them, and it’s not fair to charge everyone for what only a few do. However, we do offer the ability to buy an endorsement that covers skateparks, provided the city meets certain criteria."
Risk management before insurance
Perhaps more important than purchasing insurance is implementing risk management strategies before opening a skatepark. The South Carolina Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund, the Municipal Association’s sponsored property and liability insurance program, published a set of risk management best practices for skateparks. The recommendations include:
• Secure the skate area by a six-foot high (preferably eight-foot) chain link fence with one entrance that is securely locked during all closed hours.
• Daily inspect all ramps and surfaces, and perform prompt maintenance and repair.
• Ensure ramps are built using professionally accepted design standards, materials and construction. No half-pipe construction should exceed four-feet.
• Require participants wear safety equipment, including helmets, knee pads and elbow pads.
• Post rules and regulations in a conspicuous location.
• Prohibit the use of bicycles in the facility
"If a municipality decides to charge a fee for entrance into the park, the standard of care required increases," explained Thompson. He suggested all participants be required to sign a waiver and only participants with proper training should be allowed to use the facility. He urged municipalities to provide supervision at all times.
The bottom line
In deciding to open a skatepark, there is more to the decision than finding a "back lot where skaters can skate." Proper planning as to construction of skatepark elements, whether to charge entrance fees, how to supervise, insurance costs and other considerations must play into the decision. Without properly identifying and dealing with these issues, a simple plan can turn into a complex problem, particularly if the city finds itself without insurance coverage.