The Brandon Koch Skate Park is one step closer to a planned move to Donnelly Park, after Turlock Parks, Recreation, and Community Commissioners unanimously supported the relocation Wednesday evening.
The new park will be bigger and better, according to city staff, incorporating modern skate park design principles.
“To me this is an exceptional opportunity to inch closer to what the vision was ten years ago, of what the (skate) park should be,” Parks Commissioner Brent Bohlender said. “I'm concerned that if we don't move on this, we may be in limbo in the summer or the spring and not able to move fast enough to have a park for the kids.”
And the park will preserve the memory of Koch, a notable Turlock skateboarder who died from adrenocortical cancer. That information appeased numerous Turlockers in attendance, concerned that Koch would be forgotten in the move.
“When I heard about this stuff at the skate park, I was irate,” said William Overton, a friend of Koch. “But I thought you were just trying to get rid of it.”
Any relocated skate park will still bear Koch's name, as well as the sign and memorial boulder currently displayed at the Starr Avenue skate park. A memorial bench at the current skate park, placed in memory of skateboarder Jon Phillips, will also be moved.
Construction on the new park could start as soon as November, with an April 2014 opening. No time frame has been set for the current skate park's closure, but the construction schedule is intended to minimize the time Turlock is without a skate park.
The relocation comes as the City of Turlock is in talks to sell the current Police Department site to the Turlock Irrigation District. Both the skate park and the War Memorial would be sold as well, as they share a parcel with the Police Department.
The Police Department sale has been discussed behind closed doors for about a year. But the fact that the sale would include the skate park and the War Memorial only became public knowledge on June 12.
Brandon Koch's aunt Judith Suliman, who spearheaded the effort to rename the skate park in Koch's honor, said she was told months ago that the skate park was going to be sold, but was told to “keep a lid on it.” However, she supports the move, as Koch always thought Turlock deserved a better skate park.
“I don't have a problem with moving the park,” Suliman said. “Brandon would be okay with it.”
Donnelly Location Earns Mixed Reaction
The new Donnely Park location was suggested by Turlock city staff, as the regional park is intended for amenities that draw guests from around Turlock.
“Having the necessary support features is critical to the successful management of the skate park,” said Turlock Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Allison Van Guilder.
The new park would be located near ample parking, restrooms, and a playground area for other children.
But some nearby residents are concerned with the relocation. Five neighbors of Donnelly Park wrote the city prior to Wednesday's meeting, arguing the move will lead to increased vandalism, crime, noise, traffic, and foul language in the park.
“Staff is sensitive to these issues and views it as important feedback,” Van Guilder said, noting the city would attempt to mitigate any impacts.
About 15 community members attended Wednesday's meeting to voice their opinion on the planned move. All were in favor of a bigger, better skate park, but many were concerned with the proposed location.
“The kids don't have ways of getting there,” said Jean Koch, Brandon Koch's mother.
Many of the skate park's current patrons live in nearby neighborhoods, or around Turlock High School. Crossing the busy Geer Road could be dangerous, many speakers said.
Van Guilder said that the city would look into the possibility of a bus route running from Crane Park to Donnelly Park to ease transportation concerns.
Many suggested siting the skate park at Crane Park, but that park is already overused, Van Guilder said. Nearby residents vehemently opposed the installation of bocce ball courts there in 2012.
Local skateboard enthusiasts were also concerned with the area of Donnelly Park selected, near the southwest corner. That area is currently home to vast amounts of trash, vagrants, drugs, and drinking – not to mention stale water from the lake, which routinely has quite an odor.
Turlock city staff will look at other locations in Donnelly Park, Van Guilder said, though other locations would likely cost more to develop.
Wherever the location, the new skate park will likely resemble a series of flowing paths – not the old-fashioned concrete pad design of the current park.
“We have a great opportunity to add some new things and some more current elements,” Van Guilder said. “We're really excited about that.”
A committee consisting of Bohlender, ten community members, and city staff will meet to design the park in the coming weeks. One potential addition to the new park is stairs – an oft-requested feature in planning for the current park.
“I do believe that Brandon (Koch) would like to better the skate park, and a lot of the ideas you brought forward are interesting,” said Koch's friend Rachel Kenney. “ I know he would love the idea of stairs in a skate park.”
Old Neighborhood to Get New Park
And the old neighborhood won't be ignored completely, Turlock Planning Director Debbie Whitmore said. The city's General Plan currently counts the skate park as part of Turlock's parks system, and mandates that each neighborhood be served by a park within a short walking distance.
“(By closing the skate park) the city would be creating a deficiency in its park system,” Whitmore said. “It would be creating an area no longer served by any kind of park.”
As part of the skate park's closure, Turlock will be required to create a new park in the neighborhood. Turlock currently owns several lots in the area which could be redeveloped, but currently has no funding identified for the project.
The skate park's move still awaits final approval from the Turlock City Council. The council will discuss the issue at a future meeting, though no firm date has been set for the discussion.
The measure will also require some sort of environmental impact review before construction can begin, though details on the review necessary remain hazy until a design is completed.
But it appears a near certainty that the current skate park site will close. It's hard to come to terms with for many Turlockers who grew up there, despite the excitement of a new skate park.
“That area is hallowed ground to us. It means a lot,” Koch's friend Cody Lee said.
Only four of seven Parks Commission members were present for Thursday's meeting, barely making quorum. Commission Chair Barney Gordon, and Commissioners Bella Daniel and Mike Dowd did not attend.