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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Skateboarders criticize park build in Camas; City, contractor respond

City officials say they are listening, have goal of safe, successful outcome

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: June 3, 2023, 6:05am
2 Photos
A construction crew works on the Riverside Bowl Skatepark, at 2900 N.E. Third Ave., on May 21. Washougal skateboarder Tim Laidlaw has been documenting the project, which has skateboarders concerned about the final product.
A construction crew works on the Riverside Bowl Skatepark, at 2900 N.E. Third Ave., on May 21. Washougal skateboarder Tim Laidlaw has been documenting the project, which has skateboarders concerned about the final product. (Contributed photo courtesy of Tim Laidlaw) Photo Gallery

A group of local skateboarders following renovations at the city of Camas’ newly named Riverside Bowl Skatepark say they are worried about the park’s final reveal.

Washougal skateboarder Tim Laidlaw has been photographing the remodeling work for several weeks and posting those photos to the Riverside Bowl Facebook group.

“I just take photos and say what’s happening down there. I learned not to fight with the city, but people are coming to me now, saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on at the park?’” Laidlaw said. “There are concerns about what’s being built.”

Gabe West, 50, a Washougal resident who has been skateboarding at skateparks throughout the Pacific Northwest for the past 20 years, is one such person.

“A lot of people, if they’re outside the skating world, don’t realize there are definite ‘dos and don’ts’ for skateparks,” West recently told The Post-Record.

City of Camas staff say they have been listening to the skateboarders’ concerns.

“We’re taking the comments seriously,” Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam said.”

Lam said Jackson Toole, a skateboarder and project manager with the Camas-based firm Lewallen Architecture + Build, who volunteered his time to help draft plans for the skatepark remodel, has tested some of the finished elements at the skatepark and said the transitions are smooth.

Lam also said she has confidence in the city’s contractor, LEE Contractors, a company that, despite lacking skatepark building experience, has worked with the city before and has ample experience pouring concrete.

“I know the contractors were very honest with us at the beginning of this project,” Lam said. “They have visited (skateparks) for us. They’ve done their due diligence and we have confidence in them.”

Lam, who came on board as the city’s parks director in 2020 – about two years into the skatepark revamp talks — said she and other city staff tried their best to reach out to skatepark builders before the city went out to bid on the project in 2022. Despite the city’s efforts to attract attention from competing skatepark companies, the city only received one bid. At that time, the project costs were estimated to be a little over $250,000, but the lone bid — from Seattle-based Grindline Skateparks — came in at $369,473.

“When we went out to bid the first time, the price came in really high,” Lam said. “We said, ‘Well, we don’t even know if it’s competitive because there is only one bid, and it’s really high. Let’s rethink this and wait.’ So, that’s what we did.”

Lam said she and other city staff reached out to various skatepark building companies to see why the bid had come in so much higher than expected.

“We asked, ‘Why is this so high? Should we wait?’” Lam said.

Concrete costs — as well as other skatepark construction costs — were increasing in 2022.

“Everything was going up,” Lam said. “Prices were skyrocketing. We had funding and we had to either move forward and build something, or (pause the project).”

The city decided it needed to move forward with the project if it hoped to open the park during the spring or summer of 2023. The second round of bids came back in late November 2022. Both bids were from non-skatepark building companies, and both surpassed the city’s initial cost estimates.

Lam recommended city officials approve the lowest bidder, LEE Contractors, for $350,403, with a 10 percent contingency fund, and construct the entire project, which will, according to Lam, “provide all levels of skating experiences – from beginner all the way to advanced.” The Camas City Council agreed, voting unanimously to award the contract to LEE Contractors on Dec. 5, 2022.

Safety concerns

Randy Lee, president of LEE Contractors, did not respond to The Post-Record’s request for comment but did publish an open statement responding to the skateboarders’ concerns and said he felt many of the comments skaters were making on the Riverside Bowl Facebook site were “defamatory and false.”

“The project team consists of the city of Camas, Lewellan Architects and LEE Contractors. All members of the team are … committed to providing the community with a successful and safe environment for the future,” Lee stated in his open letter, published on the Riverside Bowl Facebook site in early May. “The project is progressing very smoothly and on schedule.”

Lee said his team had discussed what ages and skill levels were likely to utilize the skatepark.

“This park will primarily be used by local mid-teenage individuals with beginners’ skill level,” Lee said. “The sports include rollerblading, rollerskating, skateboarding, scooters and biking. Understanding this, we put together a group of youth ranging from 14 to 16 years of age with varying experience levels in all five sports. The group made a field trip to visit the skateparks in the surrounding area and notes were compiled on each individual’s pros/cons, then scaled in level of importance.”

Lee said that exercise led to decisions about some of the elements skateboarders have criticized.

“It was clear that a majority of the skateboarders with a higher level of experience leaned toward sharper edges,” Lee explained. “However, in considering the target age group, all five sports and safety concerns for our youth, the team … decided to match the existing park and go with smooth, rounded edges with the exception of one area that is not yet constructed, which will have a sharper edge.”

One city of Camas staffer that has worked closely with LEE Contractors on the skatepark project is city engineer and city inspector Chris Lopez.

“LEE Contractors are not working in a bubble,” Lopez said. “The city has eyes on this project daily and the architect has so much passion and heart for this. We’ve consulted with young skaters … it’s been a team effort.”

Lopez said city staff are focused on creating a safe, fun skatepark.

Everyone — from the skateboarders who have voiced concerns to Randy Lee to the city staff overseeing the contractors’ team of builders — seem to have the same goal in mind: building a safe, usable skatepark that can be enjoyed by the community for decades to come.

“We understand the concerns, and we’re working on them, but I think it’s going to be a great product in the end,” Lopez said.

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