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Skate park rolls again 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, but wasn't.

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" concept at Bayhead that will cater to youth in area middle schools and high schools.

Already, the city has hired a new teen coordinator, Keisha Day, who is planning ongoing 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," Day said.

The city's attitude toward the skate park is a turnaround from 1997 when the Recreation and Parks Department sought approval for the facility. Some commissioners were cool to the idea, fearing that Largo would be open to expensive lawsuits from young people who got injured performing skateboard stunts.

Things have changed.

"I think there's a demand for it," said Jackson, having witnessed the need for 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 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 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.