Bryan Keehner sat and fidgeted with the wheels on his skateboard Saturday morning, patiently waiting for county officials and local dignitaries to finish their ceremonial remarks at Stewy's Skate Park. When the signal was finally given, he quickly joined the mad rush of kids eager to try out the facility's renovations.
For the 13-year-old, who has been a regular visitor since the park opened in 2003, it was good to be back.
"I really missed it a lot," said the teen. "But it's great now. There's more ramps and rails. Kids are going to love it."
For the past 3 1/2 weeks, the skate park at Pioneer Park remained closed while work crews replaced equipment that had deteriorated from constant use.
Saturday's reopening celebration illustrated the continuing popularity of the skate park.
"It's something that all of us benefit from because it gives kids a safe place to spend some time doing something that they really enjoy," said Amber Costa, who led the effort to build the facility that is named after her late son, Stewart Abramowicz. "We get about 500 kids a week skating here. They come because it's fun and they know they're always welcome."
Last fall, park maintenance workers began noticing that some of the park's manufactured metal features had developed cracks in joint welds. In addition, some of the ramps had begun to rip loose from their concrete anchors.
Although no serious injuries were reported, park officials feared there would be if the equipment wasn't replaced right away.
J.T. Almon of Rep Services Inc., which consulted with the county on the skate park, said that although the equipment was designed to handle heavy use, the set-up at Stewy's Skate Park got far more use than anyone imagined.
"It probably got 10 years of wear and tear in the three years it's been up," said Almon, whose company has overseen the construction of about 50 skate parks throughout Florida.
Skatewave, the Minneapolis-based firm that manufactured the equipment, agreed to replace and upgrade the components free of charge.
"They came through for us, and that says a lot about the integrity of their company," said Hernando County Commission Chairwoman Diane Rowden.
The upgraded equipment got rave reviews from those who ply their athletic skills to the things skateboarders do.
"The ramps are a lot smoother now and that makes it easier to do tricks," said Kurt Nageoite, 16. "Plus, they added some new stuff like steps and grind boxes and stuff. It's all pretty cool."