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Skaters roll out their ideas for park in Largo

People in Largo have talked about building a skateboard park for 10 years.

City commissioners have debated the issue, parents have spoken for or against it and administrators have researched ways to build and pay for it.

One problem: Nobody bothered to ask the teens.

Despite a decade of talk, Largo still doesn't have a skateboard park. On Tuesday, city administrators took a major step toward change.

Recreation and program manager Andrew Hobbs held a special meeting with local teens who skateboard, in-line skate or ride BMX bicycles.

For 90 minutes, 12 youths toured the Bayhead Athletic Complex, reviewed the city's budget for a skate park and gave their opinions of how it should be designed and operated.

"They (administrators) look like they're serious about this," said 13-year-old Nick Potts.

"And we're serious about it, too."

Largo has budgeted $150,000 for an outdoor skate park. Hobbs said the city is 99 percent certain the park will be built at Bayhead on Seminole Boulevard by September, taking the place of four tennis courts to be torn down and relocated elsewhere in the city.

Teens said they got a better idea of what it would take to build the park.

They were eager to meet with Hobbs again to come to some conclusions.

Hobbs will use their input in a report to be submitted to recreation and parks director Cathy Santa by the end of the month. The department later will make a presentation to city commissioners.

Many of the teens' concerns echoed those that adults have raised in the past.

Initially, teens said they wanted the park to be supervised for safety reasons.

"What about fights and stuff," Mike Maurais said.

"Some kids, they're going to come here to drink and smoke."

Others feared skaters might get injured doing flips or other stunts.

But after debating the pros and cons, some said they would rather the park be unsupervised.

The city probably would not charge an entry fee for an unsupervised skate park. In unsupervised parks, a list of rules is posted for users that prohibit things such as alcohol and glass containers, or list requirements for helmets or pads.

Users are expected to police themselves.

Hobbs noted that several outdoor skate parks in the state are unsupervised and run smoothly.

If the park were supervised, the cost would have to be paid for through an admission fee. This year, Hobbs and other employees at Bayhead will move into a new City Hall on Highland Avenue, perhaps making it necessary to hire a supervisor for the skate park.

Some teens said they paid as much as $10 for a few hours of skating at a privately owned facility that is supervised and boasts high ramps and concessions and retail areas.

"That's too expensive," said Ira Dean, 15. Also, Ira said, he doesn't want to be hassled by workers who blow whistles and interrupt his skate flow.

The city's outdoor park would span about 15,000 square feet. It would be equipped with vending machines and several ramp varieties, Hobbs said.

Teens were split on the park design. Should ramps and skate pyramids be concrete, wood or both?

Concrete would be the more practical because ramps would be stationary and require less maintenance after rains. However, wooden ramps could be moved to change the skate course for variety.

Other ideas surfaced. Kory Black, 14, suggested the city install lockers so kids could put away their backpacks and wallets while skating.

That was something Hobbs had not thought of. He said he will organize at least one more meeting with teens. "We need what they want," Hobbs said.