Santa Monica Boys and Girls Club Staff members take down the 15 year-old skate park on Wednesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

LINCOLN BLVD — A skate park at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Monica that was especially popular among in-line skaters was abruptly shut down on Tuesday, setting off complaints from the park’s devotees and their parents.

By Thursday, the park’s wooden ramps were being demolished — part of a plan to convert the park into space for team sports — leaving parents who had held out hope of saving the park crestfallen.

“There’s so many kids that have won trophies and awards [for Rollerblading] and they have no where to practice now,” said Misty McAfee, whose 9-year-old son was a regular at the park.

Other skate parks in the area, including The Cove at Memorial Park, which is operated by City Hall, have concrete ramps and aren’t suitable for in-line skating, she said.

Aaron Young, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club, said the closure was in response to higher liability insurance rates that would have cost the club up to an additional $40,000 per year. The club also experienced higher attendance over the summer and needed the skate park space to build two new basketball courts and soccer and baseball fields, he said.

Just 20 kids could use the skate ramp at once, while the fields will provide space for as many as 100 kids to play, he said.

“You’ve got to make the best decision that’s the right decision for all the kids — not just the kids that use the skate park,” he said. “It’s a tough decision. I don’t like having to take the skate park away from the kids, but sometimes you do have to take a step back before you can take a step forward — and we need that space.”

Young said the board of governors’ 14-member operations committee met to consider closing the park in late August. No decision was reached at the meting, he said, but members later decided to close the facility.

“The committee left that meeting saying ‘We need to think about it.’ Then they got back to me and said, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do,” Young said on Thursday.

Parent’s, though, said they were caught off guard by the park’s closure on Tuesday. Several parents said they had been drafting letters in defense of the park in preparation for a board of governors meeting scheduled for Sept. 13.

“I don’t know what we’re more upset about: the park closing or the crazy, half-truth management,” said McAfee’s husband, Jason.

Young, for his part, attributed some parents’ confusion to “bad information” and said the possibility the skate park would close had been well known for months. A handful of letters urging the board of governors to keep the park open were presented at the committee meeting in August, Young said.

Responding to parents’ complaints, officials at City Hall on Wednesday looked into whether some of the ramps could be relocated to a city park but came up empty. As a consolation prize, every Boys & Girls Club skater, though, will be offered a free year-long pass to The Cove.

“This happened fast and we were unable to save the wooden skate ramps, but I’m happy that Santa Monica’s response was equally fast,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown. “Every displaced skater will be welcomed at our city skate park at no cost to their families.”

There could also be some changes at The Cove designed to welcome Rollerbladers.

“We understand that many of the [Boys & Girls Club] ramp users are in-line skaters and may have reservations about skating with boarders at The Cove.” City Hall’s community recreation manager, Kathy LePrevost wrote in an e-mail. “Our staff will work to ensure all participants are comfortable and assess whether or not separate skating sessions might be appropriate.”

nickt@www.smdp.com

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