Lockhart is located 29 miles south of Austin, in Caldwell County — one of the poorest counties in the State of Texas. This fact is important in considering how a destination skatepark was built in a town of 11,852 people — for just $108,000 — during the worst drought ever recorded in Central Texas, and in one of the most severe recessions in recent history.
Ideas for a public skatepark in Lockhart had begun formulating as early as 2002. A group of local citizens and some forward thinking municipal leaders decided that a skatepark would be a useful antidote to the lures of gang recruitment, underage drinking, drug use, obesity, and general malaise which invariably occurs among unemployed, disillusioned youth.
These citizens were composed primarily of women who wanted more for their children than the above afflictions, which — in Caldwell County — are almost inevitable. Some progress was made, primarily under the direction of Karron DeGraffenreid of Lockhart, without whose vision and tenacious drive the project would never have been realized.
These citizens banded to form an organization called “On-A-Roll, Inc.” whose sole purpose was to create a destination skatepark for the youth of Lockhart and their families. Members of On-A-Roll (rightly) believed that such a skatepark would also serve as an economic catalyst that would benefit local merchants. On-A-Roll regularly presented its case before the Lockhart City Council, wherein interest in the proposed skatepark was “duly noted.” The Council refrained from allocating public monies or public land until On-A-Roll was able to provide clear evidence that such a project was of benefit to a greater number of residents.
On-A-Roll responded by soliciting donations for a proposed skatepark, as well as signatures on behalf of such a project. The group held garage sales, barbeques, and so forth. Karron DeGraffenreid personally went to local area businesses, some of whom donated money, others donated goods to sell. Several local contractors offered in-kind services; these donations would be particularly valuable later on.
But as is often the case, the project languished as interest waned and the focus of many residents turned to economic survival rather than municipal projects. But Karron DeGraffenreid continue to persevere. Finally, the Lockhart City Council was persuaded by the results of On-A-Roll’s efforts, despite the fact that only a few thousand dollars and several hundred signatures had been collected. Incredibly, through the efforts of Lockhart Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram and the support of the majority of the Lockhart City Council, “one acre” of land in the Lockhart City Park was designated for exclusive use of a skatepark facility. Additionally, the Lockhart City Council granted On-A-Roll the sum of $60,000 with which to build it — an extraordinary sum for a community as impoverished as Caldwell County. All remaining monies were to be collected by On-A-Roll. Designs for the skatepark were to be collected with input from local area skateboarders.
Two years went by and the project once again languished: donations to — and interest in — the creation of a public skatepark in Lockhart seemingly dried up. The small size of the town did not help matters, and it seemed that the populace had grown weary of a project that was — by all accounts — “impossible” to realize.
Then in August of 2007, a new resident of Lockhart became involved in the skatepark project. The name of this individual was Michael Laird, a long-time skateboarder of fairly advanced age (he was 45 years old at the time). Laird was called on to revitalize the stalled project. He was elected Vice-President of On-A-Roll and immediately began engaging with other public skatepark advocates in Texas such as Carter Dennis, who served on the board of Skaters for Public Skateparks. Around that time came news that the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) had awarded a grant to On-A-Roll for $35,000 towards the building of a public skatepark in Lockhart. This very important donation was facilitated by the advocacy of Lockhart City Manager Vance Rodgers. By that time On-A-Roll had only collected about $4000 on its own, thus the total amount of money then available was a mere $98,000 — a laughably low sum of money.
It seemed that the project was in fact doomed to fail: after 6 years On-A-Roll had been unable to generate enough revenue (and interest) in the creation of a skatepark. Laird wrote a grant application to the Tony Hawk Foundation, citing the urgent need for a public concrete skatepark in Lockhart, and the following reasons for it: poverty, gang allure, drugs, unemployment, and overall alienation among the local youth. And finally, there was not a single skatepark in Caldwell County (public or otherwise).
On-A-Roll then solicited design-and-build bids from local area concrete skatepark builders. Three firms responded: Skatepark of Austin (SPA), Ideal Skateparks, and Parthenon Custom Concrete. SPA politely declined any involvement with the project, citing the fact that the budget was “far too low.” Despite the low budget, Ideal Skateparks pursued the bid aggressively and with great professionalism, as did Parthenon Custom Concrete. After much deliberation, On-A-Roll chose Parthenon Custom Concrete. To the project Parthenon brought many years of experience building concrete skateparks, and would ultimately be able to provide a larger, more challenging, and more perfect skatepark facility, despite the fact that the proposed budget was extremely small.
After the design and build contract was awarded, representatives of Parthenon sought design input from local skateboards at two different sessions, both of which were publicized in the local newspaper. Parthenon collated input and created a proposal for a small skatepark that they believed could be built with only $98,000.
Suddenly, the Lockhart City Council rescinded their allocation of $60,000 towards the building of a public concrete skatepark: more than four years had elapsed since the monies were originally allocated in the City budget, yet the skatepark had still not been built. Various Lockhart residents claimed that these monies could – and would – be better utilized elsewhere. LCRA was strongly considering revoking their $35,000 grant for the same reasons. By this time On-A-Roll had received $95,000 in grant money, and several thousand dollars in donations from local area residents, yet On-A-Roll had nothing to show for it.
And then the unthinkable happened Karron discovered that her accountant had never filed the proper paperwork with the IRS for On-A-Roll Inc. to become a recognized 501-C-3 non-profit organization. On-A-Roll was therefore not authorized to accept charitable donations of any kind.
To make matters even more confusing: Laird’s grant application to the Tony Hawk Foundation was actually SUCCESSFUL. The Tony Hawk Foundation responded with a very generous grant of $10,000 to be applied towards a concrete public skatepark. Now the budget was $108,000. But could this money actually be spent?
On-A-Roll made a desperate appeal to the Lockhart City Council to make available for “one more year” the monies that the Council had appropriated for the building of the skatepark, citing national interest in the project in the form of a $10,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation. The Council was at first reluctant, but then agreed, with the express understanding that the skatepark must by completed “on or before Dec. 1, 2009.”
On-A-Roll needed to find a way to expedite the 501c3 application process, and immediately took steps to do so. In the meantime, the Skatepark of San Marcos Action Committee (SPOSM) graciously allowed On-A-Roll to utilize their 501c3 to receive monies from the Tony Hawk Foundation which would then be utilized in construction of the Lockhart public skatepark.
Now things began to move in a hurry. The City of Lockhart marked off the boundaries of the one-acre site of the future skatepark. Lockhart area contractors made good on their pledges from five and six years ago. On their own time, and at their own expense, these contractors brought out heavy earth moving machines and began forming the site to Parthenon’s specifications. Then Parthenon took care of the rest. The Lockhart public skatepark was being built, although by most account it was an absolutely “impossible” feat to accomplish.
Soon a dizzying array of twisted rebar rose above carefully formed earth-mounds in the Lockhart City Park. Working with Lockhart City Building Inspectors, Parthenon met and exceeded all building codes. The first concrete pour was superb, and it just kept getting better and better. Parthenon had proved themselves to be one of the exacting builders of concrete skateparks anywhere: the concrete surfaces were incredibly smooth and perfect, despite the fact that the 2009 drought was the worst ever recorded in Central Texas. The Summer heat was withering, relentless, and downright dangerous. Yet Parthenon kept working. It became apparent that — at their own expense — Parthenon was building a masterpiece which went far beyond the limitations of the incredibly meager budget of $108,000. It helped that Parthenon’s visions were unimpeded by typically short-sighted constraints of larger municipalities and the micro-management of certain city administrators. Consequently, Parthenon built what is justly considered to be one of the most original skateparks in the entire state of Texas; with perfectly smooth and perfectly formed contours, it continues to challenge and delight all levels of skaters at all ages.
On-A-Roll is seeking to double the size of the existing skatepark of Lockhart, specifically with more street areas and obstacles. Presently the skatepark is relatively small, with about 7,000 square feet of concrete perfection. In the present economic climate, these ambitious goals will take time to be realized.
When the Skatepark of Lockhart opened in November 2009, it was immediately heralded as a model of its kind by skatepark advocates all over the United States and even in Europe. The skatepark has drawn to the small town of Lockhart hundreds and hundreds of enthusiastic visitors, from all over the State of Texas and far beyond. Drawn by its unique features and perfectly smooth terrain, these out-of-town and out-of-state skaters keep coming back to Lockhart (wherein they continue to buy goods and services from appreciative local merchants). Despite its small size, the Skatepark of Lockhart is the very definition of a destination skatepark. The fact that it was built in a fairly impoverished community located 29 miles from any major city, on a budget of just $108,000 plus in-kind donations from local contractors, is basically incredible.
Words: M. Laird