Skateboarders criticize park build in Camas

City staff says they are listening to skaters’ concerns

A group of local skateboarders following renovations at the city of Camas’ newly named Riverside Bowl Skatepark say they are worried about the park’s final reveal.

Washougal skateboarder Tim Laidlaw, who approached city officials in Camas and Washougal back in 2017 to push for upgrades to the rundown skatepark and helped kickstart a community-wide effort to revamp the park, has been photographing the remodeling work for several weeks and posting those photos to the Riverside Bowl Facebook group.

“I just take photos and say what’s happening down there. I learned not to fight with the city, but people are coming to me now, saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on at the park?’” Laidlaw said. “There are concerns about what’s being built.”

Gabe West, 50, a Washougal resident who has been skateboarding at skateparks throughout the Pacific Northwest for the past 20 years, is one such person.

“A lot of people, if they’re outside the skating world, don’t realize there are definite ‘dos and don’ts’ for skateparks,” West recently told The Post-Record.

West, along with other skateboarders who have eagerly awaited the revamp of the former Camas-Washougal Skate Park at 2900 N.E. Third Ave., near the site of the old Riverside Bowling Alley, have expressed concerns — mostly online but also through emails to city staff and officials — about the quality of the current skatepark remodel.

“I know parks really well. I’ve skated every park within a couple hours of here, and you can tell they didn’t know what they were doing from the beginning,” West said. “I checked out the first quarter pipe and it has a kink at the bottom, so if you have a beginner who is dropping into the transition, even a little kink can throw you off. And the pyramid is really steep compared to other pyramids and has weird, rounded edges. They are claiming the rounded corners are for beginners, but I don’t even think I can ride it. Sharp edges give you options for tricks — you can slide on your tail, grind with your trucks — but having rounded edges? Most of the tricks you would do … will not be possible.”

Laidlaw and West both worry over one element they refer to as “the ankle-breaker.”

“The rail on the pyramid, at the very bottom, it’s only six inches off the ground,” Laidlaw said. “In the skate world, that’s known as an ‘ankle-breaker.’ It should be about 12 inches off the ground.”

Joey Martin, a former Dreamland Skateparks employee who now owns his own skatepark building company, Collective Concrete, has built skateparks around the world, including the new skatepark that just opened in Warm Springs, Oregon.

Martin volunteered his expertise during much of the planning that went into the Camas skatepark revamp and has been keeping up with the current park remodel being done by the city’s lowest bidder, Battle Ground-based LEE Contractors. He agrees that the rail on the pyramid should not end so close to the ground.

“At a minimum, it should be 12 inches (off the ground),” Martin said. “When you’re going at a rapid rate of speed toward the concrete on a rail, you need adequate time to adjust from going from rail to ground.”

Martin, a lifelong skateboarder, said he believes there is still time for LEE Contractors to consult with skatepark experts and remedy some of the skateboarders’ concerns.

“This course could be righted,” Martin said. “I think that will require open ears and some new dialogue. They don’t need to pull those guys off the project. But (LEE Contractors) just need to be a little humble and seek some advice.”

Martin said he is still willing to help Randy Lee, the president of LEE Contractors, if Lee has questions about skatepark building best practices. “If he has any questions for me, I’m here to help,” Martin said.

After volunteering his time to help city of Camas staff plan for the skatepark remodel, Martin said he was initially upset when LEE Contractors won the city’s skatepark bid, but has since realized that decision freed his company to work on the 8,000-square-foot Warm Springs skatepark, which opened in March and has already received accolades from professional skateboarders.

“Am I disappointed we didn’t get the park (contract) because I spent five years helping with this park? Sure. But we have a huge summer ahead of us … we’re starting phase two at Warm Springs, and we’re doing something right, so maybe the stars aligned when we didn’t get (the Camas) park.”

City, contractor respond

City of Camas staff say they have been listening to the skateboarders’ concerns.

“We’re taking the comments seriously,” Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam said. “We had someone that used to own Lunchmoney, the indoor skatepark (in Washougal) to talk about these elements and … looked at the rail six inches off the ground. The contractors had talked to the kids, who said they liked having something closer to the ground.”

Lam said Jackson Toole, a skateboarder and project manager with the Camas-based firm Lewallen Architecture + Build, who volunteered his time to help draft plans for the skatepark remodel, has tested some of the finished elements at the skatepark and said the transitions are smooth.

“We were worried about the transitions, because when you’re cutting into existing concrete that slopes a certain way for drainage … it’s a challenge,” Lam said.

Lam also said she has confidence in LEE Contractors, a company that, despite lacking skatepark building chops, has worked with the city before and has ample experience pouring concrete.

“I know the contractors were very honest with us at the beginning of this project,” Lam said. “They have visited (skateparks) for us. They’ve done their due diligence and we have confidence in them.”

Lam, who came on board as the city’s parks director in 2020 – about two years into the skatepark revamp talks — said she and other city staff tried their best to reach out to skatepark builders before the city went out to bid on the skatepark project in 2022. Lam also warned Martin, who had expected the city would want to work with his skatepark building company after he had dedicated so many hours of free time to the skatepark remodel project, that he would have to bid on the project if costs went over a certain amount.

Martin said he wanted to bid on the project, but told Lam he needed more time to get his Washington contractor license.

“I know COVID had a huge impact on everyone. His license had lapsed during COVID and the state was taking forever,” Lam said of Martin. “He was a great partner (for the city) and, in my heart, I really wanted him to get it. I even said to him, ‘Do you want us to wait?’ And he said, ‘No, I’ll be ready,’ so we went out for bid.”

The city sent out a request for proposals in the fall of 2022.

The week before the bids were due, Lam again reached out to Martin.

“I texted him and said, ‘I haven’t seen anything from you,’ and he said, ‘I don’t have my license yet.’”

Lam said she asked her staff if there were other options for Martin and his skatepark building company. They said Martin could bid on the project under someone else who had a Washington contractor license and be that company’s subcontractor.

“For us, it was our best effort to make this as competitive as possible,” Lam said.

Despite the city’s efforts to attract attention from competing skatepark companies, the city only received one bid in October 2022. At that time, the project costs were estimated to be a little over $250,000, but the lone bid — from the Seattle-based skatepark company, Grindline Skateparks, Inc. — came in at $369,473.

“When we went out to bid the first time, the price came in really high,” Lam said. “We said, ‘Well, we don’t even know if it’s competitive because there is only one bid, and it’s really high. Let’s rethink this and wait.’ So, that’s what we did.”

Then, Lam again reached out to Martin and other skatepark company owners.

“I called (skatepark-building) companies to let them know we were going out for bid and to be prepared for it. Yet, we still only had one company that submitted. So we said, ‘OK, we’re just going to hold off.’”

Lam said she and other city staff reached out to various skatepark building companies to see why the bid had come in so much higher than expected.

“We asked, ‘Why is this so high? Should we wait?’” Lam said.

Concrete costs — as well as other skatepark construction costs — were increasing in 2022.

“Everything was going up,” Lam said. “Prices were skyrocketing. We had funding and we had to either move forward and build something, or (pause the project).”

The city decided it needed to move forward with the project if it hoped to open the park during the spring or summer of 2023. The second round of bids came back in late November 2022. Both bids were from non-skatepark building companies, and both surpassed the city’s initial cost estimates.

Lam recommended city officials approve the lowest bidder, LEE Contractors, for $350,403, with a 10% contingency fund, and construct the entire project, which will, according to Lam, “provide all levels of skating experiences – from beginner all the way to advanced.” The Camas City Council agreed, voting unanimously to award the contract to LEE Contractors in the amount of $350,403 on Dec. 5, 2022.

“We had to make a hard decision,” Lam said this week. “Do we go with a good concrete company that has shown us projects that are not skateparks, but that have good design, and move forward? Or do we wait to work with a skatepark (builder)? We said, ‘Let’s move forward for the community.’”

Though Randy Lee, president of LEE Contractors, did not respond to The Post-Record’s request for comment in time for this newspaper’s print deadline, the Battle Ground contractor did publish an open statement responding to the skateboarders’ concerns and said he felt many of the comments skaters were making on the Riverside Bowl Facebook site were “defamatory and false.”

“The project team consists of the city of Camas, Lewellan Architects and LEE Contractors. All members of the team are … committed to providing the community with a successful and safe environment for the future,” Lee stated in his open letter, published on the Riverside Bowl Facebook site in early May. “The project is progressing very smoothly and on schedule.”

Lee said his team had discussed what ages and skill levels were likely to utilize the skatepark.

“This park will primarily be used by local mid-teenage individuals with beginners’ skill level,” Lee said. “The sports include rollerblading, rollerskating, skateboarding, scooters and biking. Understanding this, we put together a group of youth ranging from 14 to 16 years of age with varying experience levels in all five sports. The group made a field trip to visit the skateparks in the surrounding area and notes were compiled on each individual’s pros/cons, then scaled in level of importance.”

Lee said that exercise led to decisions about some of the elements skateboarders have had issues with — including the pyramid.

“It was clear that a majority of the skateboarders with a higher level of experience leaned toward sharper edges,” Lee explained. “However, in considering the target age group, all five sports and safety concerns for our youth, the team … decided to match the existing park and go with smooth, rounded edges with the exception of one area that is not yet constructed, which will have a sharper edge.”

Lee said his intention with the open letter was to defend his company from what he considered defamatory remarks and to “provide an accurate picture to the community.”

Lee encouraged people who have concerns about the skatepark construction to contact city of Camas staff. “The city of Camas has an amazing staff. They are great listeners, so you will not need to raise your voice to be heard. LEE Contractors will continue to work closely with the city of Camas to ensure the interests of the community are taken care of.”

One city of Camas staffer that has worked closely with LEE Contractors on the skatepark project is city engineer and city inspector Chris Lopez.

“LEE Contractors are not working in a bubble,” Lopez said. “The city has eyes on this project daily and the architect has so much passion and heart for this. We’ve consulted with young skaters … it’s been a team effort.”

Lopez said city staff are focused on creating a safe, fun skatepark.

“There have been some (concerns), but it hadn’t come to my attention that there were any safety concerns,” Lopez told The Post-Record earlier this month. “Safety is the primary concern for the city as we design and construct these things. We had all skill levels in mind and we’re taking safety very seriously.”

‘Better, safer park’

Everyone — from the skateboarders who have voiced concerns to Randy Lee to the city staff overseeing the contractors’ team of builders — seem to have the same goal in mind: building a safe, usable skatepark that can be enjoyed by the community for decades to come.

“We understand the concerns, and we’re working on them, but I think it’s going to be a great product in the end,” Lopez said.

Even West, who has perhaps been the biggest critic of the work being done at the skatepark, said he is still looking forward to seeing the completed project.

“Ultimately, I think it could be a good time. The design for this park is not bad. The design is actually pretty cool and not like anything within a couple hours of here,” West said of the Camas skatepark. “In a best-case scenario, they’ll get a skatepark consultant in there before the concrete goes into that bowl and to make sure the finish is flat, straight and smooth — so that, when you fall, you’ll just slide.”

Laidlaw, the original advocate for the local skatepark remodel, said he still questions why the skatepark project’s costs ramped up to more than $350,000, and that he still has concerns about how the project will turn out, but that he is, nevertheless, happy the park is finally getting remodeled.

“Even if LEE Contractors botches the whole job, it will still be a way funner park,” Laidlaw said. “I’m thrilled the city is building the park and that they named it Riverside Bowl and gave money to this … I’ve always been in this to get a better, safer park.”