Popular sport offers new specialization for contractors

The country’s fastest growing sport is providing some fun opportunities for concrete contractors who don’t mind learning a new specialization.

As more and more American children have picked up skateboards over the past seven years, the number of skate parks in the country has skyrocketed to accommodate them. In 1996 there were 12, but skate park advocates have now lost count. TransWorld SKATEboarding magazine counted 741 last year, but an editor said hundreds might have been uncounted or under construction. Other industry estimates are as high as 1,200. More kids ages 6 to 17 skateboard than play baseball, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.

“Just about every city in Southern California has one,” says Beau Baughman, sales and project manager for CA Skateparks, located in Upland, California. “They’re everywhere in the country. But they’re not quite as saturated everywhere else as they are in California.”

CA Skateparks has built skating facilities in several states, including Oklahoma, New Jersey, Maryland and Hawaii. Hawaii has five parks and is trying to get to 15, Baughman said.

Most of the company’s customers are municipalities – the majority of skate parks are publicly funded – but CA Skateparks has also built facilities on air force bases and at a few YMCAs.

California Landscape and Design, CA Skateparks’ parent company, created the new firm a year and a half ago in response to the popularity of skate parks. The landscaping company built a lot of swimming pools, and constructing the large bowls that are a big part of CA Skateparks’ designs involves a similar process, Baughman said.

To learn how to build the parks, the company hired a designer and construction manager with 20 years of experience building skate parks. The firm also employs several experienced skaters.

Skateparks2Playgrounds in Huntley, Illinois, followed a similar path. A concrete contractor for 21 years, the firm built its first skate park six years ago. Now building the parks is the company’s main business.

Skateparks2Playgrounds used to build parks on site as CA Skateparks does now, but changed its building process last year to make the concrete playgrounds more affordable for small municipalities.

The firm’s workers now create the elevated components at the company’s shop. Instead of large bowls, Skatepark2Playground’s designs include street-style components such as stairs, railings and curbs.

“Most of the kids who are skating now, they really do like ledges and stairs and railings and what not – things that they’re skating on on the street all the time: curbs, benches and stuff like that,” says John Berg, sales manager for Skateparks2Playgrounds.

The company sends the pieces via truck to the site, where a local cement contractor can build footings for the modules, place them and pour the surrounding flat concrete. Or employees can take the pieces to the site and install them themselves.

Skateparks2Playgrounds also hired an experienced skater to help with design.

“We started talking about this module stuff and we hired a skater to help us design the stuff up and never looked back,” Berg says.

CA Skateparks typically builds parks between 9,000 square feet and 25,000 square feet. The company uses between 200 yards and more than 600 yards of concrete on each park, Baughman says. Depending on elements and size, prices range from $189,000 to $625,000. Skateparks2Playgrounds’ facilities are designed to fit the $70,000 to $150,000 range the company says most municipalities have to spend on skate parks.

As the parks become more popular, they are also getting bigger. Most skate parks in California in 1998 were 6,000 square feet or smaller. But a 40,000-square-foot park with a $2.5 million price tag opened this spring in Louisville, Kentucky.

Construction of skate parks hasn’t slowed down. On average, three parks are opening every week and participation in the sport grew faster than that of any other from 1995 to 2000.

Baughman said skate park construction is a good field for concrete contractors to get into, but they need proper training and supervision from an experienced skate park builder when getting started.

“They tend to mess up a few parks before they learn,” he says.