It’s been a long struggle for supporters of a new skatepark in Keene, so it’s encouraging to hear their efforts to build a new one are nearing fruition. The current park just behind the Gilbo Avenue parking lot was constructed in the mid-1990s with private funds and has proved popular with skateboarders and others over the years.

It was built of wood and sheet metal, however, a less than ideal design for the vagaries of New England weather because it requires regular replacing, according to Keene’s Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Andy Bohannon. Also, the platforms weren’t designed to handle the weight of now-popular BMX bikes, and curling steel ramp bottoms have raised some safety concerns.

The existing structure’s shortcomings have been apparent since at least 2009, when then Mayor Dale Pregent formed a committee to explore options, but efforts stalled as the cost to replace it with concrete-poured ramps that require less repair became an obstacle. Eventually, planning coalesced in 2015 around a proposal calling for a larger, concrete-poured skatepark in Wheelock Park. As has been the case for other recreational projects in the city, such as the rail trail system improvements, the plan required significant private fundraising by supporters, and the plan’s $750,000 price tag proved too big a nut and never proceeded.

By 2018, supporters had regrouped and begun an organized fundraising effort aimed at raising $300,000 for a reduced-scale skatepark. The group, in meetings with Bohannon that included some of the skateboarders, BMX riders, rollerbladers and scooter riders using the park, made a strong pitch that a replacement structure remain in downtown Keene, and a plan emerged to move it initially just to the west on Gilbo Avenue as part of planning for the Main Street arts corridor project. With that project stalled, the current plan is to replace the skatepark with a similar-sized, facility on its existing, 9,800-square-foot footprint.

Meanwhile, fundraising for a new skatepark received some significant boosts. In particular, the project received a prominent endorsement from a $10,000 donation in 2019 from legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk’s foundation, and the City Council has committed $25,000 toward the project through its capital improvement program. Those commitments have added to the project’s credibility with potential donors and helped spur additional support, according to Kathleen Burke, the project coordinator for the supporters’ organization, Keene Skatepark.

Although the fundraising was slowed a bit by the pandemic’s onset, Keene Skatepark’s website now reports that more than $213,000 has been raised, and Thursday evening the City Council voted to accept $200,000 as a donation to the project. That will enable the city to start seeking design proposals, Bohannon stated in a memo to the council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel committee.

Meanwhile, Burke has signaled confidence in reaching the project’s $300,000 target, telling the committee last week there’s already an additional $35,000 of dedicated money and she’s “really excited that next year, Keene will have a new skatepark.”

Her excitement is justified. As Bohannon has observed, an updated skatepark is an outlet for kids — particularly those who don’t participate in other sports — to stay active and build friendships. Also, he’s reported it attracts boarders, BMX riders and other users “from all over,” and keeping its current location will benefit downtown, its businesses and the wider community.

A new skatepark in Keene that will require less upkeep is good for kids in the community and good for Keene. And good for Burke and the Keene Skatepark supporters for bringing it so close in sight.

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