Skatepark project falls flat

It’s over for Tim Boland and Blair Bike & Board.

Starting about eight years ago, Boland began raising money to build a skatepark somewhere in the Altoona area.

Last week, the Central Blair Recreation & Park Commission pulled its support for the project, saying Blair Bike & Board has made too little progress over too many years.

In September, Boland and the board had agreed to shrink the project to fit the $100,000 the organization had raised so far. Six years ago, the project was slated to cost $1 million.

But the parties recently learned that the designated tract for the skatepark near Blair County Ballpark was in a floodplain, requiring prep work that would consume half the project budget, according to commission Executive Director Mike Hofer.

That would leave too little even for a shrunken project, he said.

The board had been pressuring Boland to begin work despite his massive fundraising shortfall, because a small grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation was set to expire in June.

“When you start taking money out of the bank, it’s never a good thing,” Hofer said.

Now it’s over.

“I’m bummed out that we couldn’t get it completed,” said Boland, a teacher at Altoona Area Junior High School. “We kept running into issue after issue with pretty much everything.”

The flood plain revelation was “pretty much the final straw,” he said.

The board likewise is disappointed, according to Hofer.

“Nobody really wanted to see the project go away,” he said.

“But we can’t be putting all this time into it when it’s not going to happen,” said Bill Schirf, a commission member. “After so many years, there was just not enough money raised.”

The biggest chunk the group raised was a $71,000 grant earmarked by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

That money may go toward the commission’s spraypark project on the site of the defunct Memorial Pool in Juniata, if Shuster’s office OKs it, Hofer said.

The remaining money raised by Boland will go toward the Altoona Area School District program SOAR – Study, Overcome, Achieve and Reward – which provides orientation and mentoring to motivated junior high school students, so they can eventually go to post-secondary education with financial assistance.

The funding will be designated to help a skateboarder.

Aside from the earmark and the Hawk grant, Boland’s group raised between $7,000 and $12,000 through fundraising events and individual contributions, Boland estimated.

They never got far enough along to approach potential big business donors, he said.

Some of the money the group raised independently of the grants went toward creation of plans and to cover other expenses along the way, he said.

If Boland had it to do over again, he would have limited project presentations to “places that mattered.”

He ended up talking to elected officials in far too many municipalities, he said.

“We did a complete circle and ended up back at the Rec office,” he said. “We lost two or three years going from place to place.”

That two or three years meant that when the national economy collapsed and nonprofit organizations tightened up their grant programs, the group had still not raised much money, he said.

The board might have done better with fundraising if the skateboarding community was more organized, like basketball or baseball, he said.

Those sports have teams, whose members meet regularly with coaches, giving the coaches access to kids’ contact numbers, making fundraising feasible, he said.

Skateboarders tend to be independent agents, the kids who don’t like to join teams, he said.

The project still might also be viable if the Rec Commission had some other more cost-effective site available, Boland said.

But it doesn’t, he said.

Boland would be willing to help some other organizer take up the cause, calling it a “much needed project. I still think there’s interest.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.