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This city could have been spared a lot of grief if this facility had been put in this location about 15 years ago.

Guards may patrol skatepark

The City of Saskatoon may add security guards to the Lions Skatepark for the month of April in response to continuing safety concerns.

The park, which opened in September 2003, was a magnet for thefts and scuffles until the city contracted security guards to patrol the area in mid-April 2004.

The community services department is proposing the city spend an extra $2,200 to ensure guards are in Victoria Park from April 1 until the end of October this year.

"Given the weather conditions, the kids will be down there and security is an issue and they want to make sure that if there are people down there doing it that they are safe," Ward 6 councillor Elaine Hnatyshyn said Sunday.

A community development report to the city's planning and operation committee says the security company, Flaman Investigations, said the park only needs one guard patrolling at a time, not two, as there were during peak hours last year.

"I think for the security company themselves to say we only need one security guard speaks to (the fact) there aren't the security issues that were once anticipated being there," said Catherine Gryba, manager of community development. "The feedback that we've gotten from parents and patrons is that it's nice the security guard is there but it really did not have any reported incidents happening at the skate park that needed security."

The security guards came too late for Mike Wilk. Kids at the skate park stole his then eight-year-old son Donovan's bike at the park last April. That might not have happened if a guard was present, he said.

Wilk thinks the area might be too large for only one guard, though.

"It was nice to see their presence around the skateboard park, but I did find that also where you park your vehicle is quite a ways away," he said.

Gerarda Paton said the guards might have helped her last April as well. She drove to the park to pick up her son during the Easter break and was steps away from her van when someone smashed open her window.

"My son was under the impression there were security guards and that is why I had let him go originally," Paton said. "After that point, I've never allowed him to go again. I may consider it if there was security guards there."

Corey Neufeld, who owns skate shop Nine Times Boarding and served on the advisory committee for the skatepark, said the extension of patrol time would be a good thing, since kids use the park whenever they can.

The number of guards on patrol is irrelevant, as long as they carry cellphones and can call police when necessary, Neufeld said. The city should also assign officers to the park during special events, he said.

"(We need) some way we can know actual police can have contact down there," he said.

Hnatyshyn said she hopes bicycle police and the new mounted officers will patrol the area during the summer to ease some of the users' concerns.

Last year the city spent $13,600 on security guards for the park. About 160 people used skateboards, BMX bikes or in-line skates at the park each day during last year's warm weather. The city offers skateboarding lessons for kids and hosted several demonstrations last summer. This year, city administrators are asking for $15,000 to keep an eye on the park.

Although safety comes first, Hnatyshyn said the city's budget is tight this year. The extra $2,200 should be diverted from an area of lesser need, she said.

Council's planning and operations committee will examine the proposal Tuesday, said Ward 3 councillor Maurice Neault. The recommendation will then proceed to the administration and finance committee, who will work it into the budget.

Neault said council should vote on the budget in late March or early April. If the budget isn't approved until after April 1, city administrators will have to decide whether to pay for guards to watch the park on an interim basis, Neault said.


Skatepark horror stories spark concerns among users

Recently heralded as a boost to Riversdale, Lions Skatepark has instead become a place where skateboarders have been threatened at knife-point and targeted by thieves and vandals, says the owner of a city skateboard shop.

Corey Neufeld, a skateboarder himself and owner of Nine Times Boarding, said users are paying the price for the city's decision to build the $500,000 skateboard and bike facility in Victoria Park over the objections of a steering committee on the project.

"From the very start, they let it be known, council and city staff, that that's where they wanted to put it," he said. "The problem is it's not the safest neighbourhood."

Lions Skatepark opened earlier this fall.

Since then, Neufeld said many kids and parents have shared troubling tales with him, such as one of a knife being pulled on some park users and a BMX biker having his bike stolen and getting beaten with a chain.

Vandalism to cars is also a concern. Neufeld said his own vehicle was deliberately scratched across both doors and a fender was dented.

"Everybody's got a horror story and parents will not leave their children there again," said Kelly Patrick. She no longer takes her daughter and son there to skateboard and bike because of the park's reputation. "A lot of kids have been roughed up."

Downtown's Kinsmen Park was the steering committee's top choice but objections from some cross-country skiers removed it from the city's consideration, Neufeld said.

Coun. Owen Fortosky, who represents the ward in which the skateboard park is located, defends the facility despite "growing pains.

"By far and away, it is the most positive thing that has happened in that area in a long, long, long, time."

Saskatoon Police Service's most recent report for Victoria Park shows no increase in reported incidents, said city neighbourhood program consultant Marj Orchard.

"We just don't see a huge cause for concern."

Despite problems, users are flocking to Victoria Park, Neufeld admits.

He has asked the city to consider possible solutions, such as hiring professional security to replace paid "hosts" -- skateboarders who informally keep an eye on the facility -- lockers, extended video surveillance of the parking lot and development of a second major skateboarding facility in the city.

The city is considering all of Neufeld's suggestions as it reviews the skatepark, Orchard said. It hasn't ruled out a second park, but that would require long-term planning, she said.

Lions Skatepark is the best facility in Saskatoon, although there are smaller parks in Lakeview and Forest Grove.

Neufeld said problems at the skatepark mean boarders will return to skateboarding downtown near businesses, such as the Delta Bessborough. A year ago, skateboarders inadvertently damaged the clock tower outside the hotel.

The city's planning and operations committee will review the skatepark at a meeting Wednesday.