Skate park's impending end dismays teens

From left, Spencer McGraw, 13 ; Keith Swartley, 15; Matt Bergan, 14; Howard Guille, 14; C.J. Cunnane, 13; and Cole Maurer, 13. "So many kids come here," Guille said. "A couple of slats of wood is all you'd need." DAVID O'REILLY / Staff
From left, Spencer McGraw, 13 ; Keith Swartley, 15; Matt Bergan, 14; Howard Guille, 14; C.J. Cunnane, 13; and Cole Maurer, 13. "So many kids come here," Guille said. "A couple of slats of wood is all you'd need." DAVID O'REILLY / Staff
Posted: September 03, 2013

Life is good when you're gliding around a skate park with your buds in the waning days of summer.

And so the news came as a shock to a half-dozen skateboarders last week when they learned Moorestown will soon demolish its decade-old wheel park off Church Road.

"What?" asked one boy.

"Why?" asked another. All were in their early teens.

It's a matter of dollars and physics, says Theresa Miller, town parks and recreation director. "It's a wooden skate park that's way past its shelf life. We just couldn't keep up with maintenance anymore."

BMX bicyclists, whose maneuvers pound the wooden surfaces and plywood walls much harder than do skateboarders, likely hastened the deterioration, she said, as they have elsewhere.

The town chained and padlocked the gate about a year ago, but the surrounding five-foot fence does little to deter children from climbing over - as attested by the presence of six teenage boys on a recent afternoon.

All were from other towns, which Miller said is what she usually finds.

Given the high cost of rebuilding, and considering that so few residents use it, Town Council voted Aug. 19 to raze the park's seven curved and angled plywood structures. Demolition will likely take place in the fall, once the job is bid and contracted, Miller said.

The bulldozers will be taking down more than just a skate park, however. Since 2003, this fenced half-acre of asphalt and plywood has also served as a memorial to David Gentile, a Moorestown High School football player profoundly paralyzed in a 1979 game.

After Gentile's death at 36 in 2001, his mother, Joan, donated $120,000 for creation of a skate park from unspent money donated over many years for her son's medical treatment. The donation was enough to complete the long-planned but stalled project, for which the township had appropriated $239,000. Members of the Gentile family could not be reached for comment about the impending demolition.

"That was a lot of money 10 years ago," Miller said. "The town also kept up quarterly maintenance and additional repairs. But at a certain point, the wood just starts breaking, and then it's not worth doing."

What the town will do with the site, which is within its 22-acre Wesley Bishop Park, is under discussion, Miller said.

Despite the locked gate, the skate park is well used, Miller said. "Every time I go by, I see kids in there."

And that's exactly why it should stay open, 14-year-old Howard Guille of Maple Shade said last week. He was among the boys irked and saddened to learn this was the park's last summer.

"So many kids come here," Guille said. "A couple of slats of wood is all you'd need. . . . My dad built a 10-foot half-pipe for $200."

Matt Bergan, 14, of Cinnaminson, predicted "there'd be chaos if they tore this down. Kids will be [skateboarding] everywhere in towns."

Guille and C.J. Cunnane, 13, of Cinnaminson, offered to help Moorestown rebuild the park. "I'd paint, too," Guille said.

But 15-year-old Keith Swartley of Cinnaminson seemed resigned to the inexorable will of grown-ups.

"It's a shame after all these years," he said. "There's very few skate parks left."


Contact David O'Reilly at 856-779-3841, doreilly@phillynews.com, or follow @doreillyinq on Twitter.

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