Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Perils of Pre-fab

I’m not here to harp on modular skatepark items for fun, but having been to over 260 different skateparks (or places the community refers to as skateparks or spots) I have seen the issues that come with parks made from mass manufactured items.  From safety issues to premature wear, there are many issues that are exclusive to pre-fabricated parks.  I’m writing this from a skaters point of view to encourage communities considering a skatepark to look at all the issues surrounding the modular ramps.

Pre-fab done right.  
I’m not going to say there’s no reason to go pre-fab but there are many more reasons to go with a poured in place (PIP) concrete skatepark.  
Beeton's modular mini is in good condition and placed on a fresh concrete pad. The hollow metal surface results in more noise than a PIP ramp. There's no other park in this small community. With proper maintenance this should last.

Skateworks in Rockford, Illinois is a well maintained modular park. Damaged sections have been replaced. The park still features kickplates, sectional coping and thousands of individual parts, any of which could fail.

Kickplates.  
A kickplate (or transition plate) is a steel plate fastened to the ramp at the point at which it makes contact to the base surface.  They are found on almost all steel, wood and concrete modular ramps. They make a lot of noise every time a rider goes over it. They bend, they break off and they slow you down.  They have been known to damage wheels. They also form a kink in the transition to the ramp.  Try riding a mini-ramp that has two kinked, noisy, speed reducing transitions.  PIP parks avoid this issue by creating smooth, continuous concrete transitions.
 The fasteners on this plate have snapped resulting in a raised and warped kickplate. This poses a danger as you descend the transition.
 A very elevated kickplate.  This is a significant danger for riders moving towards the ramp.
 This photo shows both a warped plate and a broken weld. The weld, being only on the surface of the plate couldn't stand up the constant riding.
The ramp on the left is missing its plate while the ramp on the right had plates that were not attached.


 Two examples of kinked, kickplated mini-ramps.

I have seen modular, kickplate style obstacles placed in parks with a poured base. The end result is a modular ramp with a kink made of concrete instead of metal.
 This quarter pipe wall has a poured concrete section bringing the riding surface up the transition.  These sections are the same as in the mini-ramp seen above.
Another concrete build up to a jersey barrier.

Haven’t I been to this park before?  
Many of the pre-fab parks I’ve been to have a similar feel. A bank, box, quarter pipe and a rail bolted into the ground.  Maybe a few other items but the selection of manufactured obstacles is finite.
 Bank, box, quarter.
 Quarter, box, banks.
Bank, box, quarter and a mini.
Quarter, box, quarter and a rail bolted into the ground.

The surface, however, may be anything from a fresh concrete or asphalt base, as seen above, to an old tennis court or parking lot, as seen below.

On the topic of surfaces;
I've been to pre-fab parks that have placed of a poured concrete pad, fresh asphalt, old asphalt and other re-purposed sport surfaces.  This is often done to save money as the cost of modular ramps does not include the skating surface. The fenced area of the tennis court above is roughly 2900 Sq Feet.
This park in Eau Clare, Wisconsin measures 2400 sq Feet and has more variety for skaters.

Even when a modular park is placed on a fresh concrete pad there are still issues involving drainage. PIP parks take drainage into account and slope the flat enough for water to drain.  I've been to many pre-fab parks where the pad has been made as close to level as possible with no run off.

Sitting water on the park is inconvenient and dangerous for riders and when sitting under the ramps can also cause damage.
The area between the transition plate and the surface traps water. That combined with the freeze and thaw cycle of a northern winter results in cracked and crumbling pavement.
Degrading concrete at the base of ramps.
Modular ramp sinking into the asphalt. note - It is also not bolted down.

Whose design is this anyway?
All too often the design of a pre-fab park is done without user consultation and is left to community staff with no skateboarding or BMX background.
 This spot would be better if it was just the flat rail in the middle of the skate surface.  There is not enough space to approach the ramp and the rail shoots users into the grass.
 The open asphalt pad and concrete ledge in the middle of this park is part an underground drainage system. The city added an unsecured kicker and a stair set and called it a skate spot.
Another no run up/no run out skate spot. It is completely unusable and a waste of money. 
Too many items packed into a tiny area.
This concrete modular lump had major design flaws. With no way to build speed, users had to bomb the nearby hill, enter the park and cross the structure in order to hit stairs and rails.
A feature skaters look for in a park is the ability to move from one obstacle to the next and link tricks. This design set the box off to the side and reduced the flow of the park.

Mind the Gap.
Any opening in the skate surface creates a risk for users. Wheels of skateboards and bikes can get caught in gaps or holes throwing them to the ground unexpectedly. It is also a hazard if a body part were to get caught in a "pinch point".
 This gap between the box and hubba(ledge) is big enough for a foot to slip through.
 This gap, at the top of a steep bank, was filled by the installer and again (with auto body filler) to create a smooth edge. One of the "benefits" of manufactured ramps is that they will fit together.
Over an inch of filler was need to complete this wedge.
Some modular ramps have lift points with are filled in following installation. The holes are filled with epoxy and topped with a resin. Here the resin has cracked leaving the gooey centre exposed, ready to swallow a wheel.
EDIT - One year later.

 The following series of photographs are from the park in Dryden, Ontario. This manufactured concrete park was installed in 2007. There were many gaps left between the "interlocking" ramps that had to be filled.  This filler has failed and broken off. More shocking is the ramps themselves have shifted and broken.
Up to 3 inches of space between modular items.
Huge loss of both filler and modular ramp concrete in the bowl.
The base of this ramp has shifted resulting in a dangerous lip.

 The top of the same ramp. The filler, concrete and coping all show serious damage.
 Hole in the wall,
Big enough to put my hand in.

Even when the gap is unrelated to damage or wear, there may be places where sections of ramp aren't meant to meet and there is not a modular item that will fit.
No PIP park would leave a empty wedge like this. It is unused space and a fall hazard.  The curved bar on the right works better as a short fence or tripping hazard than a rail. It is, in fact, too close to the grass to be ridden.

DIY. 
Skaters have always had a DIY mentality. From backyard vert ramps of the 80's to renegade concrete parks like Burnside in Portland and P45 in Montreal, skaters have taken their need for skateable terrain head on.  Some communities have embraced these DIY parks and list them as an approved skatepark. Others have considered them blights on public or private property and destroy them.
Some modular parks are DIY projects by a well meaning town without the know how to create a safe park.
 The original park in Baden, ON. It was later replaced with modular ramps in the same configuration.
 This mini vert ramp was very lumpy as the skate surface was attached to the metal framing and not an firm base.
 This steel DIY featured a 16 foot long kicker and a steep transition to bank.  Jagged edges mean tetanus for users.
 Another park featuring a ridiculously steep bank to ledge.
This park has a very strange quarter pipe.  It was built by the community while funds were raised for a large concrete park. The new park is amazing (one of the largest in Ontario) and this spot still remains.

Damage.

In 1981 a flash flood washed away a large amount of soil at the end of Seylynn Snake run in Vancouver, BC. Part of the concrete hovered above the torrent but did not collapse. The park stands today and is one of the oldest in Canada.  Well made PIP parks can stand up to almost anything where as modular parks are subject to damage from vandalism and wear.
 A section of ramp siding sits in the parking lot.
 A section of a plastic ledge melted after a fire was built under the ledge.
Orono park the first time I visited.
 Orono the second time I visited
 The hubba has been knocked over.
 A raised edge on this kicker.
Missing safety rail on this bank.

Other issues.
The installers of this park used pieces of heavy steel welded to the ramp to weigh it down instead of bolting it down.
 This "Magic carpet" piece is meant to be concreted into a poured base. Here, a build up of concrete was used to make it rideable.
 Same park as above. Another piece that should have been placed in a poured base. Here a 2 inch lip prevents any fun from being had.
 Major kink in the ledge. It makes this edge useless and very dangerous.
A raised screw on this wedge.  It could stop a board or cause a laceration. 
Unfastened connector plate.
 This photo again?  Moisture condenses on metal ramps. The concrete on this park was dry for hours before the ramps were safe to ride.
Mini ramp with no deck.

Jersey Barriers.
Jersey Barriers are my personal pet peeve. They seem to be dropped in every park and are used as an alternative to a proper quarter pipe. I don't mind a barrier in a fully actualised park but too often their plunked down with a rail and ledge and called a skatepark.


Jersey barrier to grass. 
Here is an example of a properly executed jersey barrier, topped with granite, at my favourite park; Campbellford, ON.

Poured in Place. Here's what you get.
 Smooth, poured transitions.  
King City oververt pocket.
 The Forks Plaza's bowl in Winnipeg has been a destination for the Tony Hawk Secret Skatepark Tour.

Properly Designed Parks
 Amherst, Nova Scotia.
 Port Colborne's park is shaped like a giant freighter and is located in Lock 8 Park.
Markham's Centennial Park has hosted several skate demos.

Custom Features
 Rotating Pac-Man manny pad in Picton, ON.
 Tree stump volcano at Isaac Riehl Memorial Skatepark in Pelham, ON, features inspiring words and tree rings.
Audley Rec Centre in Ajax, ON features a custom, skateable, PIP AJAX structure.
Sutton, ON.

Small functional parks.
Markham's Leitchcroft skate trail.
 Markham's Ray Street Park. Neighbourhood sized park doesn't look like much but the pump track and clam shells are actually a great ride.  Other park users have been known to stop and watch the skaters.
Hillside Park, Vaughan, ON. A small neighbourhood park with low quarter pipe and ledges and other items for more skilled users.
Ledge/stair combo is a part of a large park but can stand alone as a skate spot.
Another great park feature at Sonoma Heights park, Vaughan, ON
Community Integration. 
 Quebec City Plaza is perfectly placed in Victoria Park.  Manufactured parks can't leave room for landscaping and create a sterile, rather than organic, aesthetic.
 Winnipeg's Skate Plaza at the Forks is located at the hub of Winnipeg's downtown. Situated by the river, the surrounding area features the waterfront, shops, restaurants, a baseball stadium and the Museum of Human Rights.
 Ucluelet Bowl in the beautiful Vancouver Island Rainforest.
Campbellford, ON. This gem is located in a beautiful park with a community centre, washrooms, playground, splash pad & sports fields. The skatepark uses aspects of the river near the park including polished granite ledges, stone features and custom concrete work.
 No danger of wet boards. The park is across the street from the river.
 Solid ledge with metal and stone edges with a stone base made from stone excavated from the site.
 Rock wall ride.
Friendly locals. Not only this turtle but town residents. The first time I visited Campbellford in October of 2010 I did a quick recon of the park and returned to my car for some wax. While waxing a ledge an older gentleman approached me and what I thought of the park. 
"I just got here but it looks pretty nice." I replied.
"Yeah well I think it's great. The missus and I moved here from Port Hope after I retired and the kids love the park there and we thought there should be a park here cause it's great and it gives the kids something to do besides drugs." 
I was floored at such a positive response.

There are other issues I don't feel educated enough to comment on such as noise levels, liability, insurance, long term cost of maintenance and warranties as they relate to modular skateparks.

Resources for more information on modular vs. PIP parks.

Update*

Replacing Modular with Concrete. There is a full article HERE on this subject by Skaters for Public Skateparks but I felt I'd add some more local exapmles.

White Oaks Skatepark in London, ON in 2010(top) and 2014(lower) after it was upgraded. The new park is poured in place and makes use of the existing concrete slab. 

Welland is in the process of upgrading their park. Proposal on the left and current modular park on the right.

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