Charlie Samuels has been advocating for improvements at the Saratoga Springs skatepark since 2010, when city officials deemed the concrete skating pool a safety hazard and had crews fill it with dirt.
The first improvement — having city crews shovel the dirt out — was achieved in 2011 following pressure from Samuels and others from the regional skating community, who offered publicly to excavate the dirt themselves. Since then, Samuels has been lobbying the mayor’s office and the finance commissioner to fund a repaving of the skating surface, which he calls “really gritty,” among other fixes.
Now that the city is seeking proposals from contractors to give the park the repaving it needs, Samuels, a 55-year-old skateboarder and professional photographer, has one word to describe his feelings on the matter — relief. He’s also grateful to John Hirliman, the administrative director for the city’s Recreation Department, for his efforts to make the skatepark a priority.
The work, scheduled to take place this spring, would be the first major maintenance at the park since 2004, when the concrete pool was installed. It was built in the center of the city’s East Side Recreation Park on Lake Avenue in 1988.
“That’s a true word that I feel — it’s a sense of relief,” Samuels said. “But I’m also impressed with John’s tenacity and persistence, and I’m very appreciative of that.”
Hirliman said the request for proposals went out Jan. 23 and bids are due by March 24. He said the city is prepared to spend nearly $50,000 on skatepark improvements — $20,000 to repave the park and another $25,000 to have equipment, including heavy ramps and a halfpipe, carefully removed, cleaned and repainted, and then put back after the repaving is done.
“You’re looking at mobilizing a group twice,” Hirliman said in justifying the work's $25,000 price tag.
He said the surface will likely remain asphalt because it is less expensive than repaving with concrete.
“Concrete is three times as much — we’re putting a bid in to look at both,” he said.
Samuels said he hopes to see the park repaved with concrete, but any repaving will bring even more skaters out. He said the park attracts a handful of skaters at any given time on fair-weather days.
“It’s just a big hindrance when you try to skate on ramps and then you hit that, not to mention the safety hazard,” he said, referring to cracks and bumps in the pavement. “If they pave that with either blacktop or, ideally, cement, I predict there will be twice as many skaters there.”
The work will also involve replacing cracked coping around the lid of the pool, Hirliman said. The bids being sought currently won’t involve work on the pool, which is shaped like the number 8 and measures about 8 feet deep on one end and 4 feet deep on the other, Hirliman said. “That would be a completely different project.”
But pool enhancements could be coming in the form of a community art project — which would cover the graffiti that currently marks the pool's concrete surface.
Belinda Colon, who runs the On Deck Saratoga organization with her husband, Benj Gleeksman, said she plans to put out a call for mural proposals this month. She hopes to display the proposed works either online or at a venue to give the community a chance to help with the selection process. The project already has Hirliman’s approval, and the painting could take place this summer, she said.
“I’m starting with the bowl, and I would love to see it go up to the side of the ramps where there’s also graffiti,” she said. “It would be nice to have a matching color scheme.”
She envisions a new mural being painted every year.
“If anyone starts tagging that up, we’re just going to paint it one color,” she said.
Colon and her husband have also advocated for the planned improvements, which Colon said will make for a safer park; Gleeksman runs skateboard clinics there in the summertime.
“It really is an important livelihood and self-esteem boost for kids who don’t know what to do,” Colon said. “Maybe they don’t want to play team sports, they just individually want to hang out and skate. They’re learning how to have their own community.”
She also noted that they're not allowed to skate most places in the city — on the sidewalks, for instance.
“We just want to make sure they have somewhere to go,” she said.
Hirliman cited “kids just learning things on their own when they’re skating” as a reason the park is worth investing in.
“I think it’s just another asset that we have in Saratoga,” he said.
And he said the improvements will not only benefit the skaters who use the park, but the city’s economy as well.
“If it gets someone out of the house and they're going into your community, it’s just a huge benefit,” he said.
Samuels also stressed the skatepark's economic value.
“The better your skatepark is, the more tourists you get,” he said. “Skaters have apps on their phones that tell them where skateparks are, no matter where they travel.”
That includes children visiting the Spa City with their parents, Samuels said.
“The parents are delighted because they can drop them off there and go to the horse track, and the kids are delighted because they get to skate a new skatepark,” he said.
Samuels, who has been skating since he was 14, said the skatepark was one of the reasons he moved to Saratoga Springs from New York City ten years ago. He said he visited the park 11 years ago, before he knew he'd be moving here, and “skated the bowl.”
“I skate every day when it’s warm weather, even at age 55,” he said. “But back then I was like, this is great. My favorite way to exercise, right in my own hometown, and I can skate right to it.”
A previous version of this story stated the wrong date since major maintenance had taken place at the skate park. The last major project was in 2004.