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Libby City Council considers skateboard park

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| October 8, 2009 12:00 AM

Teenagers and pre-teens, some clutching skateboards, watched in awe at Monday’s Libby City Council meeting as preliminary designs for a first-rate skateboard park in Libby were projected on the wall in front of them.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for a skate park,” 13-year-old Andrew Witherington said later in an interview.

He and fellow skater, 13-year-old Marcos Castillo, said they are constantly kicked out of the best places in town to skate and would welcome a new park.

“They call us vandalizers and say we ruin their concrete,” Castillo said, “but there’s no where to skate.”

Castillo was among the group of skateboard park advocates at Monday’s meeting.

Don Penzotti, a skateboard park designer and builder, revealed a park that would run long and narrow beside Lee Gehring Field, bordered by West Second Street to the south and Highway 37 to the east. The over 12,000-square-foot park would feature a mix of elements to attract skateboarders of all levels.

A new skateboard park has been talked about since the old one – about the size of half a basketball court – was closed five years ago, but Monday’s meeting gave skateboarders a shimmer of hope.

“We’re trying to get it going by saying, ‘Hey, we can do this. This is what it would look like and here’s how much it would cost,” said Cressey Rice, a skateboarder and Libby High School class of 1992 graduate.

When Rice, who lives in Arizona, learned through her family that Trent Oelberg was trying to make a skateboard park a reality in Libby, she offered the services of Penzotti, her boyfriend, who has designed and built modern skateboard parks all over the country.

Oelberg took up the cause early this summer, he said, for the kids who had been promised a new park when the old one was dismantled. So far he has received kudos from parents and other adults.

“I’ve not run into anybody yet that thinks it’s a bad idea,” he said. “Everyone I talked to said, ‘Yeah, we need this. They were promised this for a long time.’”

Penzotti broke the design into phases, the first of which will cover 2,400 square feet and could be built as early as next year. If the city agrees to help with excavation and fill, and local suppliers honor agreed upon discounts, it would cost an estimated $17,000.

Oelberg asked the city Monday to define the area east of Lee Gehring Field for a skateboard park. He also requested that the city track down what he believes to be $7,000 earned from the sale of the old skateboard park property that was to be set aside for a new park. Additional financial support for the project will come through local fundraising and grants, Oelberg and Rice said.

The council and Mayor Doug Roll voiced support for the skateboard park. But Roll also voiced concerns about hidden costs.

“I’m a little worried about liability insurance and the cost of maintaining another park,” Roll said.

Oelberg said that Amber Ireland of the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority, which covers liability insurance for the state’s cities and towns, assured him that Libby’s premium would not go up as a result of a skate park.

Roll was also concerned that the city work crews could get behind, as they have in the past when donating time and equipment to a project.

Oelberg is optimistic and believes that, with the city’s support, the project could be completed in three to four years. 

In other city news:

• The council announced its appointment of Heather McDougall as its city attorney.

•  Dan Thede, supervisor of city services, announced that he would retire at the end of the month.

• The state Department of Transportation asked the council for its support to build a fifth lane south of Libby on Highway 2 to use as a left turn lane. The proposed lane would only run a block or two within city limits to approximately the bottom of Whiskey Hill. 

• Allen Olsen, owner of Antler Tree Nursery, expressed his perception that the city singled him out when he was fined for not having a business license. Councilmember D.C. Orr pointed out that the ordinance is not clear about who must purchase a business license. Roll asked McDougall to look into the matter.

• Brad Dodson spoke on behalf of a small group working with Libby Middle School to redesign its disc golf course. He requested that the council allow the group to use a small portion of adjacent city land for the course.

• Fire chief Tom Wood reported that the Libby Volunteer Fire Department is still in the running for a stimulus fund grant to build a new facility. He also reported that LVFD responded to six fires in the city in September, including one structure and one vehicle fire.

• Libby resident Marvin Steele brought up his concern that the city does not have an ordinance concerning riding bicycles on sidewalks.