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Elon town council moves forward with $295K skatepark

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After some reluctance, council members unanimously endorse project

Skateboarding enthusiasts were practically doing backflips in Elon this week as the town’s elected leaders agreed to press ahead with the development of a municipal skatepark.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Elon’s town council voted 5-to-0 to have the town’s staff begin the prep work for this proposed installation on the grounds of Beth Schmidt Park. Its members also confirmed an earlier decision to set aside $295,000 for the project, while authorizing local skateboarding aficionados to raise additional funds to augment the town’s contribution.

The council ultimately reached this two-part decision after an enthusiastic report from an ad hoc committee that its members appointed in 2023 to explore the idea of a municipal park devoted to skateboarding.

The result of this inquiry was quite clear to Kai Whiteside, a student at the town’s eponymous university who served as the committee’s chairman.

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[Story continues below photos.]


ELON SKATEPARK DISCUSSION

Kai Whiteside, an Elon University student and chairman of the town’s ad hoc committee to study the skatepark concept.

“A skatepark here in Elon will, without a doubt, benefit and strengthen the community. . .There are way more injuries that could happen without a skatepark . . . if you have people skating in the middle of the streets, injuries are going to happen.”

– Kai Whiteside, an Elon university student and chairman of the town’s ad hoc skatepark committee

Paul Stansberry

“Skating brings people together. . . People think skaters are a bunch of delinquents; but we just do something that we enjoy. . . and I want a place where I can work to better myself without worrying about getting in trouble.”

– local high school student Paul Stansberry

Elon professor and mother of a stakeboarder Kathleen Stansberry

“I’ve felt for a long time that this is a group [10-to-15-year-olds] which is being underserved. We’ve almost criminalized the collection of people in that age group. . . So, I support what they want with the skatepark.  I think a skatepark could be a really great place for gathering that could fill a hole for the community.”

– Elon professor Kathleen Stansberry (and mother of high school student Paul Stansberry)

Trevor Underwood

“I would have never wanted to get behind a lens if it wasn’t for skateboarding. The concrete is not forgiving. It will teach you a lot of lessons real quick. . . For a long time, people saw a skateboard as a fad or a trend – a pogostick, a hulahoop, a pickleball. But now it’s in the Olympics.”

– Trevor Underwood

Elon mayor Emily Sharpe

“To be backing out at this point is. . . crappy. I’m really annoyed. . . We made a commitment in the community that we would establish a skatepark. . . Would we be having this conversation if we had as many citizens over fifty asking for pickleball courts?”

– Elon Mayor Emily Sharpe

Elon town council member Stephanie Bourland

“I don’t think badly of skaters. . . I think skaters are some of the coolest people in the world. But that said, I have to be fiscally responsible, and I have to make sure this is something that works for the town.”

– Elon council member Stephanie Bourland before making a motion to green light development of municipal skatepark


“A skatepark here in Elon will, without a doubt, benefit and strengthen the community,” Whiteside declared as he and his colleagues presented their conclusions to the council on Tuesday.  “If you have a skatepark, [skateboarding] would also be much safer,” he added. “There are way more injuries that could happen without a skatepark…if you have people skating in the middle of the streets, injuries are going to happen.”

Whiteside told the town council that existing skateparks in places like Apex provide a model for the sort of facility that could work well in Elon. He went on to suggest Beth Schmidt Park as a potential location based on the committee’s assessments, and he identified several companies that have already expressed interest in constructing the skatepark should it get a thumbs up from the council.

Whiteside conceded that the town’s proposed financial commitment of $295,000 wouldn’t cover the full cost of the top-grade skatepark that he and the committee’s other members envision for Elon. He added, however, that the group would be willing to go hat in hand to raise the additional $500,000 that he said the project requires.

In addition to his own pitch on behalf of the committee, Whiteside also introduced two other skateboarding devotees to offer first-hand testimonials in support of the skatepark.

The town’s leaders received a particularly poignant account of the sport’s life-altering potential from Paul Stansberry, a local high school student who credited skateboarding with helping him pull through a personal crisis about two years ago.

“Skating brings people together,” he added. “People think skaters are a bunch of delinquents; but we just do something that we enjoy…and I want a place where I can work to better myself without worrying about getting in trouble.”

Stansberry’s take on skate culture was shored up by his mother Kathleen, a professor at Elon’s School of Communications who went on to sympathize with the plight that she said confronts many young people today.

“I’ve felt for a long time that this is a group which is being underserved,” she said of the 10-to-15-year-old demographic. “We’ve almost criminalized the collection of people in that age group…So, I support what they want with the skatepark.  I think a skatepark could be a really great place for gathering that could fill a hole for the community.”

The council heard more about the character-building potential of skateboarding from Trevor Underwood, a Wake County videographer and avid skateboarder who grew up in Elon.

“I would have never wanted to get behind a lens if it wasn’t for skateboarding,” Underwood told the town’s municipal leaders. “The concrete is not forgiving. It will teach you a lot of lessons real quick…For a long time, people saw a skateboard as a fad or a trend – a pogostick, a hulahoop, a pickleball. But now it’s in the Olympics.”

These entreaties for skateboarding nevertheless hit a figurative brick wall with some members of Elon’s town council. Councilmember Stephanie Bourland proved particularly obdurate despite her own childhood recollections about learning to skateboard.

“I don’t think badly of skaters,” Bourland went on to assure the skatepark’s supporters. “I think skaters are some of the coolest people in the world. But that said, I have to be fiscally responsible, and I have to make sure this is something that works for the town.”

Bourland went on to raise some questions about the potential liability and staffing expense of a skatepark. Her cost-related concerns were later echoed by Elon’s mayor pro tem Monti Allison, who insisted that the facility’s backers may be disappointed with the sort of skatepark the town can actually afford.

“If you want an Olympic-sized pool, but can only build a kiddie pool, will that be sufficient?” Allison asked the project’s proponents.

Bourland’s misgivings about legal liability were largely dismissed by Kim Brown, a staff member with Elon’s recreation and parks department.

“You can get hurt doing anything,” Brown reminded the council.

Meanwhile, Peter Ustach, a member of the town’s skatepark committee, observed that the challenges which seemed to perplex some members of the council have been successfully overcome by dozens of other communities that have successfully established skateparks in North Carolina.

Ustach added that, if Elon drags its heels with this project, it may find that some other local municipality has seized the opportunity to develop the first skatepark in Alamance County.

“If we don’t build it, Mebane will build one or Graham will build one,” he said. “But if we build a quality park, it will bring people from Greensboro who don’t like their [own] park.”

Meanwhile, the hemming and hawing of some council members proved too much for Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe.

“To be backing out at this point is. . . crappy,” she said carefully choosing her words. “I’m really annoyed. . . We made a commitment in the community that we would establish a skatepark. . . Would we be having this conversation if we had as many citizens over fifty asking for pickleball courts?”

Sharpe’s chastisement drew a pointed rejoinder from Bourland, who argued that any funds set aside for a skatepark are, in her view, dollars that are no longer available “to give our employees a fair and livable wage” or to cover an anticipated 35 percent surge in employee health premiums. Even so, Bourland decided to give the skatepark’s supporters the benefit of a doubt.

“I’ll be honest with you, I have not been in support of this,” she added, addressing the members of the skatepark committee. “But you changed my mind tonight…If this can actually make a difference for one kid, it would be worth it.”

Bourland proceeded to stipulate that she doesn’t “want another penny spent” by the town beyond the $295,000 that the council has previously pledged for the skatepark. She added, however, that the facility’s supporters have her blessing to raise additional funds on their own. To this end, she made a motion to have the town’s staff begin the preparations for the facility’s development. The motion passed 5-to-0.

Sharpe, for her part, went on to commend the project’s supporters for their assiduous efforts to win over the town’s leaders to their endeavor.

“I have never seen a group come together like that skatepark committee has,” she said, “and I have never seen a group believe they can fundraise $500,000.”

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