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Skate park rolling after stumble

Trouble with the first site delayed the park, but Largo's proposed budget includes $344,000 for the project.

Come Tuesday, Largo commissioners will vote on the city's 2000-2001 budget. And somewhere among the hundreds of pages of figures and staff jargon is $344,000 for a skate park.

That would be the same skate park that was scheduled to be completed this past summer for $144,000.

A year ago, the city planned to build the facility atop old tennis courts at the Bayhead recreation complex. Studies since then show the land is unsuitable for a skate park because of its previous use as a landfill, said Recreation and Parks Director Cathy Santa.

"We saw there was a lot more landfill area than anticipated," Santa said.

Now, the skate park will be built on a grassy area at Bayhead, just north of the tennis courts. Additional work associated with building on the undeveloped lot, rather than on the tennis courts, is what drove up the cost by $200,000, Santa said.

Largo commissioners are expected to adopt the skate park proposal as part of the city's budget with little problem, Mayor Bob Jackson said.

And the facility, which still is being designed, is expected to be finished by next summer. It will be an integral part of a new teen center at Bayhead that will cater to youth in area middle and high schools.

In June, the city hired a new teen coordinator, Keisha Day, who is planning programs, field trips and other events. During the past year, the city has talked with parents and nearly 100 young people in focus groups to get their opinions on the skate park, as well as what needs the teen center should meet.

As part of the city's objectives, "We're supposed to be building healthier, smarter teenagers," said Day, who will also work to establish a teen council at Bayhead.

The council will help plan activities, Day said. "I'm giving them responsibility, a head start on life," she said. "At last, they will have a voice."

A $50,219 grant from the Juvenile Welfare Board will help pay for programs at the teen center, which opens officially Sept. 25. The teen center idea is in keeping with Largo's intensified efforts in the past few years to keep youth engaged in positive activities. Commissioners have been outspoken in their support of youth outreach centers established over the past few years.

But the attitude toward the skate park is somewhat of a turnaround from 1997, when Santa originally sought approval. Some commissioners were cool to the idea, fearing the facility would make the city vulnerable to lawsuits from young people injured performing daredevil skateboard and inline skating stunts.

Things have changed.

"I think there's a demand for it," said Jackson, who says he has witnessed the need himself. As Jackson walked out of the Largo Library one day last week, he saw a kid skateboarding, showing off his skills by leaping with his board onto library benches.

"I said, "Isn't that kind of dangerous?' " Jackson recalled.

The boy, who didn't realize he was talking to the mayor, said no and pointed out how his skate board left no marks on the benches.

But Jackson need not have gone to the library to see young people skating. His 9-year-old skateboarding grandson is eager for the facility to open, Jackson said.

"It's a group of kids in the community that we haven't provided any recreation for," he said.

Santa's department is recommending the city charge Largo youth who have recreation cards $2 for entry to the skate park. The fee would be $2.50 for non-residents with recreation cards.

Teens with recreation cards will not be charged additional fees to participate in most programs at the teen center, Day said.