ZEPHYRHILLS — Zackari Wideman and Jacob Henderson were bored at lunch one day when they came up with a plan to get Zephyrhills' attention.
The 16-year-old skateboarders wanted new stairs, new handrails, and especially, new pavement at the skate park at Krusen Field. So, they created a petition and speech to present to City Council.
"We assumed that's what would be our best bet," Wideman said.
On Monday night, the two teens and their friend, Cody Barringtton, came to the meeting armed with 101 signatures.
"We appreciate the city for giving us a park, and we will use it and abide by the rules if we are given a decent and safe place to skate," Wideman told the council. "We are also willing to sit down with the recreations director to discuss the design that will work best for the skating community."
Skateboarding has been a point of contention between skaters and city officials for years. The city opened the $120,000 skate park in 2004 to keep skaters from skateboarding in the downtown area. The 12,000-square-foot park has ramps, bleachers, lighting and 14 obstacles.
But even in the planning stages, the park didn't win praise from all skaters. Advanced skaters said the quality of the equipment was inferior to other parks. They also criticized the asphalt, suggesting concrete would work better as pavement. But concrete cost more than the city could spend and presented drainage problems.
In 2007, the council considered confiscating the skateboards of skaters who continued illegally skating downtown. Officials said skaters were destroying sidewalks and other city property. Skaters said the skate park was far from town, provided no shade and required them to wear helmets, which were hot and uncomfortable.
The helmet issue is one that Mayor Cliff McDuffie brought up again Monday night. He said if the city is going to put more money into the park, then skaters need to wear their helmets because the city is liable for injuries.
"There's a reason for it," he said, and asked the boys to self-police helmet wearing.
City Manager Steve Spina told the boys and the council that repaving the park with concrete would cost about $40,000, and getting grants is difficult these days because of the economy.
"It's been in our capital improvement plan, but we just keep bumping it," Spina said.
Still, the council seemed interested in coming to some sort of compromise. Spina gave the boys his contact information and told them he would be happy to talk further. Council member Jodi Wilkeson suggested that parents of skaters donate money to the cause or find businesses that are willing to help.
"The bottom line is a lot of kids like to skate," she said.
According to Shane LeBlanc, public works superintendent, the city has about 940 registered skate park users on file, although some of them are older now and may no longer use the facility.
"My observations are that kids still use the park, but it's nowhere near as popular as it was when we first opened it," LeBlanc said.
Wideman said he and his friends don't use the city's skate park as regularly as they would if it was repaved in concrete.
"It's in asphalt, and it's really pitted and pretty dangerous," he said.
It also isn't as fun.
"You can't keep speed, and if you can't keep speed, you can't do any tricks," he said.
Zackari's father, Scott Wideman, learned that his son wanted to present a petition to the council a couple of days before the meeting. "Once I found out he was going to do it, I wanted to be there to support him," he said. "He's an outgoing person. He stands up for what he believes even around the house here."
Scott Wideman, who is self-employed through his business Wideman Wiring, said he was skeptical about Wilkeson's idea to have parents donate money to improvements for the park. He said times are tough for everyone, and many parents are just trying to make ends meet.
"We scrape pretty much week to week to pay our bills," he said.
Zackari said he plans to talk more with city officials and hopes to solicit company donations. "Any businesses willing to help us out and make a donation — any donation — will help," he said.