By Ross Markman
Federal dollars earmarked for the renovation of a parking lot could be reassigned and used to build a skate park in Havre.
Mayor Bob Rice, at a Wednesday meeting of the Havre Skateboarders Association, proposed that about $43,000 of CTEP money allocated to the Sixth Avenue Ballpark parking lot be diverted to the efforts to build a skateboarding and in-line skating facility in Havre.
Through the Community Transportation Enhancement Program, the Federal Highway Administration allocates money for projects ranging from landscaping to sidewalk maintenance to historic preservation.
Havre received $53,949 in CTEP dollars this year, which boosted its CTEP balance to $92,662. The amount a city, town or county receives is based on a complicated formula with population a key factor, according to Craig Erickson, planner at Bear Paw Development Corp. Erickson oversees the city's CTEP projects.
The Havre City Council determines how the CTEP money is spent.
The money was slated for the ballpark lot during Mayor Phyllis Leonard's last term in office, in spring of last year, Rice said.
"I have never endorsed that project. I didn't have any input into it," he said.
"If we're able to do this, we'll have $43,000," Rice added. "At least that would get this thing rolling."
That's what residents like Ingrid Cartwright would like to see results.
Cartwright is the parent of a skateboarder, 15-year-old Tanner, one of four skaters who attended Wednesday's meeting.
"Right now, all these kids want is a place to go. Somewhere where there's concrete and ramps," Cartwright said. "If the city would just go ahead and designate a lot, you'd be surprised what these kids can do."
The kids, according to skateboarders association treasurer Janine Donoven, collected 1,400 signatures on a petition last fall.
"I think the community has wrapped its arms around this," said Donoven, owner of J.M. Donoven Design and Fine Jewelry. "I think this is a matter now of saying this is our location and this is the picture of how we want to make it."
The primary site being considered for the skate park, she added, is a lot across from Taco John's on Fifth Avenue. Other possible locations include a lot across from Montana State University- Northern's practice football field and a spot on the east end of Havre.
The size and cost of building the skate park has yet to be determined. In March, Rice estimated it would measure about 40 feet by 60 feet and could cost about $75,000.
Rice also said in March that the Havre Police Association had committed $1,000 toward the project and the Havre Rotary said it would likely chip in $2,000. There's also the potential to apply for a grant to help defray the cost, he said.
In Great Falls, parks and recreation director Jerry Sepich said the city received a grant for $1 million for its parks, roughly $350,000 of which will fund its skate park construction.
Donoven thinks the interest in Havre is there, and now it's just a matter of raising the funds to do the project.
"The issue is not whether the city wants to do this. We know the city wants to do this," she said.
The city, Donoven added, has safety and construction guidelines to follow.
That's something that has some of skateboarders concerned rules. The four in attendance said they likely would not use a supervised skate facility and prefer not to wear protective gear like helmets and elbow pads.
"I'm not worried about getting hurt," Josh Dionne, 15, said. "And if it's supervised, I'd rather skate on the street. I'd rather get the $10 fine and the community service."
The Havre Police Department, according to Sgt. Russ Ostwalt, receives calls from people complaining of skateboarders on their property. The grievances, he said, are almost always in the city's business district.
"We're not down there just to cause you guys problems. We're called down there," Ostwalt told the teens. "It's the property owners, it's not the police officers."
"You're taking all these good kids and labeling them as bad skateboarders," Cartwright responded. "No matter what you do, you're always going to have a couple kids who will ruin it for everybody. I hate to judge all these kids on a few."
Skaters, according to Josh and Tanner, simply want and need a place to hone their skills. There are facilities for basketball, baseball and tennis in town, they say. Why not skateboarding?
There's also no fee to participate and no one supervising such traditional sports, they say.
If constructed, the skate park could possibly be supervised and include a membership fee, Donoven said.
"There's no fee for a basketball player to go play basketball," Josh said. "Besides, if we skate at Independence Bank, we don't have to pay."