|This is the first of a three-part editorial piece on the history, present state, and future of public skate parks in the state of Hawaii. The views expressed are that of the author and a roaming army of skateboarding vigilantes and are not necessarily associated with 50-50.com, so don't bother emailing us about any of the editorials.
Whenever anybody says, "Well, what you have is better than nothing!" I cringe. There's always a sense of concession or laziness associated with that phrase. In most cases, having nothing is better than having something second rate handed to you, especially if the goal of giving you that certain something was a temporary fix to placate your need and desire. Because you've been given 'something' and feel fortunate, your creativity and imagination suffers, and you lose your drive to achieve excellence. What was once desire to work and achieve only the best, soon becomes a desire to have something only 'better than the last one'. I see this happening in the current state of skate park design and construction in the state of Hawaii, and the trend needs to stop now. Because many of you, myself included, may not really agree with or truly understand what goes on within our state government, we do have a rather extensive knowledge of the silliness and corruption that goes on within our state government as it applies to our public skate parks. The purpose of this editorial is to serve as an informational vehicle, because the truth about this topic needs to be heard. Also it's always fun to stir up a little controversy along the way.
First, in order to understand the current state of skate park design and construction within our state, let's backtrack to the early 90s, when street skating was booming in popularity, and the state decided it needed to do something about the skateboarders to get them off the streets (I know of the parks constructed, redesigned, & demolished etc. before this, but I bring up these parks because were talking about the process in which they were done). The state decided that they needed to convert a couple of basketball/tennis courts into cement skate parks and do it rather quickly. In an attempt to do it themselves, they worked internally. Which meant conceptual designs, architectural drawings, etc., were all done in house by state designers and architects. It's no coincidence that their designs resembled the wooden street courses, which were popular at the time, even though the actual skate park construction was out of cement, because the designers were not necessarily skateboarders or skate park designers. Their expertise was limited to obstacles, which had previously been built, or obstacles that they saw in skateboarding magazines. So they drew up the designs themselves and put them out to bid to independent contractors, who accepted the job if they determined they could do the job within budget constraints. More about the bidding process later. In this way, both the Waianae and Ewa Beach skate parks were constructed.
Moving ahead to the mid to late 90s, skateboarding was still popular, and Mayor Jeremy Harris determined that the public facilities for skating (both in-line and skateboarding) were inadequate, so he assigned an Ad Hoc committee to meet in the Honolulu Municipal Building every so often and discuss the state of public skating facilities in the islands. The purpose of the committee was to get the public a little more involved in the process. For the first couple of years, not much was accomplished. Sites were discussed, budgets were scraped up, paperwork floated around, but nothing was really accomplished. You could miss a bunch of meetings and not even notice, because the same topics and issues were discussed each and every meeting. Eventually, after a long process, the Makiki Skate Park was designed and built, and the Ad-Hoc committee took a so-called 'new direction' as a new liaison for the committee took over. New projects were designed and budgeted such as Keolu Hills, Mililani, Haleiwa, Banzai, and Kamiloiki. Which brings us to the present day.
Not a whole lot has changed in the actual skate park design and construction process. The major difference in the process now is that local architects are brought in by the state to draw up the designs and are working as independent contractors, getting paid maybe $20-30k for their work. Apparently some of them are supposed to be old time skateboarders. The architects pair off with local skateboarders for consulting. These skateboarders, apparently, will be compensated for their consulting duties. Some of them, better connected within the state, will consult on more of the projects than others. On a side note, any project Makiki and before were specifically told that any designs not drawn up by the state architects would not be accepted due to insurance and liability reasons. Sounds like BS to me now, considering what has happened recently.
Now, to be negative for a moment. Certain people are unjustifiably making a killing (with your tax dollars) on each and every project they work on. The result is a skate park built on an over inflated budget, that does not reach the skater's expectations as far as design and quality, because those become minute details in their grand scheme of things. The stunning reality of the whole situation, is that there are people working on the projects, who don't really know what they're doing, who've never designed or built skateboard structures themselves, who don't even take the time to do the extra research and consulting it takes to make sure the job is done properly. They treat the design and construction of these parks just like any other job, and money is the main motivating concern they have to be involved in the project. Skate park design and construction is not just another job, it is a love. Once you start getting paid for a job, you are expected to act as a professional, working on a higher level of skill and knowledge that your trade demands. Unfortunately we don't have professionals. The stakes are high and people are getting angry. There are skaters out here who have been trying to see these jobs through for the last 10, 20 or even 30 years, who would gladly not be paid a cent if they knew that money would go into the park to make it better, though these days you can't be sure.
Let's go into detail with a couple of examples from fairly recent history. The first project we covered in a past article was the Makiki project. The main things I want you to take away from the article are the budget $153k, the size of the park (~4800 sq. feet), and the process of design. This is an example of the kind of park you get when the state only draws up simple things it knows how to build.
Many of you may remember a community board meeting July 2000 at Hahaione School that Mayor Jeremy Harris attended. Because of the large number of skateboarders that attended the meeting, Mayor Harris promised that Hawaii Kai would have it's own cement skate park within the year. As a temporary solution to the problem, a wooden skate park was to be constructed at the Koko Head (Job Corps) site, which was the future home of the cement park (it's funny how these projects can be pushed through so quickly if the Mayor decides he wants to back it). It was to be done in 3 weeks, supposedly on an unlimited budget, to meet the needs of the skateboarders. A design was drawn up, a wood list was made, and a budget of $50k was made for the cost of the wood alone, and the project was agreed upon.
It was a very good design, however this design was to be implemented by state carpenters, who had little or no experience building this type of structure. 3 weeks went by; soon it became 3 months with no sign of any ramps. After 3 1/2 months a single, small, sloped, kinked mini-ramp and a skinney 6' ramp appeared, and no sign of any other ramps, no wood, no nothing. Only 2 ramps which could have been built for less than $3000 for materials. What happened to the budget? What happened to the design? Who knows? Since it's nearing April 2002, work has hastily begun to try and construct a cement park at Kamiloiki School (being that Koko Head is supposedly going through a long and arduous environmental study). An architectural group is in charge of the architectural design of the park. The area is 10,000 sq. feet, and $500k is the present budget. They estimate it will cost $45 sq./ft of the park, and are working under strict budgetary concerns (and are beginning to make excuses why the park can't be as good or large we'd like it to be), being that a wheelchair ramp must be implemented as well. Where does the money go? Not really sure, but it's not going into the cost of materials, being that cement is only 20% higher and rebar is the same cost here as it is on the mainland. The average budget for the other skate parks being designed around the island is about $500k. Can a quality skate park be built for this amount of money? Most definitely, that's more than enough. Just take a look at the cost of many great parks that have been built on the mainland (see if this gets you upset):
So what's the solution? First, we need to cut out the middleman. Architects are pocketing $20-40k for their services. They aren't the ones building anything. That money should be going into the park. They need to accept their own limitations. The person that designs, should also be the one who builds the park, because they know how to build what they draw, they are experienced and know how to avoid problems they've had on parks they've built in the past, and most important they know how to save money, because they are in control of the project from start to finish. An independent architect who has to convey his plan on paper to someone who will be constructing a project will never be as efficient as a contractor who does it all himself. This is a lesson to be learned, best exemplified earlier in the Koko Head ramp design and construction. Unlike building a house, or a sidewalk, skate park design and construction is a skill unto itself, architects and contractors alike need to be highly skilled at building and designing skate parks and only skate parks. There are companies, such as Dreamland, Grindline, and Airspeed, which are licensed skate park design and construction companies (more on these companies in a later article). This is what they do. You can leave all the minute details the architects always pander about to them, because they deal with drainage, fencing, wheelchair access, noise, etc., with every park that they build. All this money going to the architects can be saved in the goal of making a much better park. Architects don't necessarily want to hear about it though, because they don't want to lose the jobs that they've created for themselves within the state.
Second, and maybe even more importantly, is we need to get rid of the contractors (or more like, the very small handful of contractors), who are presently awarded the bids for our skate park projects. They are unskilled at building skate parks, in fact, they don't even skateboard, so they need to be told how something is properly done. A skateboarder would just know how something is properly done and would be able to improvise. A general contractor is forced to depend on the architectural plans and a whole lot of consultation, which costs time and money, and even then wastes more money because he's not able to construct the park as efficiently. I said earlier in the page I was going to mention something about the bidding process. I just have one question. Why are a select few companies awarded the bids on every single skate park that is built on the island? It seems awfully strange that every time the state puts out a bid for skate park construction, that these select few contractors are awarded the lowest bid. What about more qualified swimming pool contractors? At least swimming pool contractors are experienced with gunnite and know how to build non-flat surfaces with compound curves. Maybe these bids are only put out to a few select contractors? And believe me, these lowest bids are expensive too! If there's anybody making a killing on these projects, it has to be the contractor. Similar to the architects, the contractors don't want to lose these jobs that they've created for themselves either. If nobody complains, the jobs will keep coming, and it's easy money. $153k for building a park as small as Makiki is crazy, but for the simplicity of the design, it's downright criminal.
Stay tuned: Part 2: Hawaii's skate parks, a critique on design and construction.