By Ross Markman
Chris Bramlett isn't a point guard, quarterback or centerfielder.
He's a skateboarder.
But as the 16-year-old Havre High School junior pointed out, the city has plenty of places for area kids to hone their basketball, football and baseball skills.
But there's nothing for skateboarders.
"We need a place to go," he said.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice is looking.
Advocating the construction of a city skate park since his candidacy last year, Rice took the next step Monday night, naming council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick and Havre parks and recreation director Dave Wilson to a fact-finding committee. The duo's thrust is to meet with the Havre Skateboarders Association, a group of nearly 50 kids, to determine the best location and design for a skateboard park in Havre.
Bramlett is president of the association.
"We want to have all the kids design (the park), so it will make us want to go. I think if everyone came up with ideas, we can create something everyone would like," Bramlett said.
According to Rice, the obstacles are many. But they're not insurmountable.
With a cost estimate of $75,000, funding the construction could be the greatest roadblock.
Rice said the Havre Police Association has committed $1,000 toward the project and the Havre Rotary Club said it would likely chip in $2,000. In addition, several Havre contractors have told Rice they would donate time and materials to the park's construction, he said.
"If I could support all this with local money, I wouldn't have to go through all these hoops," Rice said.
There's always the possibility of grant money, he added, citing a federal grant Great Falls recently received for improvements to two of its parks.
Jerry Sepich, Great Falls parks and recreation director, said the grant is for $1 million, roughly $350,000 of which will fund the skate park construction.
"We were only bringing in a couple of hundred bucks here and there," Sepich said of trying to raise money locally. "It would have taken forever to get the money that way."
As for insuring the facility, Sepich said Montana Municipal Insurance, which covers both Great Falls and Havre, added skate parks to its coverage options several years ago.
"Very early on, it was almost impossible for cities to get involved in skate parks. The MMI wouldn't insure them," he said.
Bramlett and Janine Donoven, treasurer of the Havre Skateboarders Association, are proposing a short-term alternative, rather than waiting for funds to be raised. They suggest the city choose a site for the park now, and allow the kids, many of whom have built their own skating apparatus, to use it now.
"We don't want to wait too long. We need a designated place to go," Bramlett said. "You'd think (people) would want to raise the money, because they don't want us on their property."
Donoven, owner of J.M. Donoven Design and Fine Jewelry, agreed.
"Right now, the kids doing the work up front need a place to go," she said.
Donoven isn't the only proprietor in Havre in favor of a skate park.
Leann Evans, owner of Quench & Bench, said skateboarders are not adversely affecting her business and are not a danger to the public.
"The kids aren't skating on property when people are trying to go in (to a business). They're not doing any harm," she said. "The kids in Havre need something to do besides drink and drive and do drugs."
Evans said her 13-year-old son has received two criminal trespassing tickets from Havre police.
"And he's not a criminal," she said.
Havre police Capt. Mike Barthel said the department has no objection to skateboarding.
"It's the complaints we receive," he said. "Mainly it's destruction to property, like damage to concrete or bricks. There's also been reports of damage to landscapes."
Since Jan. 1, the police department has received four calls complaining of skateboarders, all in the business district.
Usually the department warns the kids. Officers don't contact skateboarders unless they have a complaint.
Skateboarder should not be synonymous with troublemaker, Bramlett said.
"Not all of us are bad kids. I think it's just how people think about skateboarding. They totally view us as bad people," he said. "But most us are not trying to get in trouble."
Mike Hamilton, owner of Creative Leisure, said kids skateboarding around his store have respected his property.
"They've been real good about not (grinding) on the sidewalk. I don't mind them skating around. I just tell them to watch out for customers," he said.
"It's a good activity for them. It keeps kids out of trouble," Hamilton added. "I know it was part of Mayor Rice's campaign and I support it."
Rice said he's been pushing for a skate park since he first ran for mayor in 1996.
"I promised the kids I would build them a half-pipe," he said.
Six years later, Rice's dream has expanded to a full-fledged, fenced-in park, including ramps, rails and dips, he said. The park would measure about 40 feet by 60 feet.
Possible locations, Rice said, include two sites on Fifth Avenue: the rarely used ice skating rink across from Taco John's and a lot near City Hall a location the mayor said would be ideal.
"We really need to get a better idea of the size and what space we need," said Woodwick, who supported the park during his campaign for City Council. "We've got to find out what the ideal skate park is, and the whole town has got to get behind it."
"The first thing we have to do is get with the skateboard organization and get the input from the kids," he added.
Rice echoed that sentiment.
"I hope I'm not making all the decisions," he said. "This will get the kids doing things they should be doing instead of getting into trouble. They're good kids and they're being treated like bad kids."