Spark Corp. envisions a skatepark in every town.
A small resort town in Colorado is where you might least expect to find a company that’s ready to build concrete public skateparks anywhere in the United States. The town is Crested Butte, host to the 1998 Winter X-Games and home to skatepark builders Lenny Byrd and Omer Windham III, owners of Spark Corporation.
In 1991 while living in Daytona Beach, Florida and skating and working a Stone Edge skatepark, Byrd started coming to Crested Butte for their annual Free Ski. By 1993, he was spending summers in Daytona and winters in Crested Butte, and by the winter of 1995, he began living in Crested Butte year round.
Byrd’s first love has always been skateboarding. He skated in NSA contests in the mid to late 80s, and was sponsored by Schmitt Stix, Independent, and Jobless Clothing. Thirty-three years old, he has been skating for over 24 years.
During the summer of 1996, he got a call from the mayor of Crested Butte, Scott Truex, who wanted some information on skateparks. Having heard from local skaters about the wooden bowl Byrd built in his garage, Truex hoped he could help him come up with a solution for complaints about skateboarding in the downtown area. Right away Byrd saw the opportunity to get a concrete skatepark built in his new hometown.
Organizing the skaters of Crested Butte and surrounding towns, Lenny packed numerous council meetings to show widespread support and explained how a skatepark would satisfy everybody’s needs. The town council was very open-minded; it took little effort for Byrd to convince them how important it was for skaters to have a hand in how the park was designed and built. By November of that same year, the skaters had a design and the city council approved a location and a budget of 50,000 dollars. Bid packages for the new skatepark were sent out in June 1997, and construction was to begin in July.
Having skated some twenty concrete parks, including the new ones in Durango and Grand Junction, Colorado, Byrd was apprehensive about who might get the bid. “I was worried about a sidewalk or pool contractor getting the bid, and not interpreting the plans as they were intended,” he says. “Then one day while looking at an issue of Warp magazine, I came across a picture of Tom Groholski at the Badlands pool in Florida, and I said to myself, ‘What about Omer?'”
Windham had built Badlands. Byrd had skated the pool before, and knew him from numerous skate sessions at Stone Edge. With the deadline for bids fast approaching, Byrd found Windham in North Florida, where he was refurbishing the kidney pool at Kona Skatepark, and quickly got him a bid package.
At 30 years of age, Windham has worked on close to 400 pools in the last eighteen years. A skater since the age of sixteen, he built his first skateboarding-specific pool, the Badlands pool, in 1993. When Byrd caught up with him, Windham was busy giving the Kona pool¿the largest skatepark pool on the East Coast¿a complete makeover, with new decks, coping, and Diamond Brite surface. Even before the Kona pool had time to cure, and with money raised by the Crested Butte Skater Alliance, Windham was on his way to Colorado to meet with town officials.
There was still some hesitation from City Manager Bill Crank about awarding the job to Windham. “The fact that the bid was so much lower than the others and the fact that Omer did not have a business or a contractor’s license in Colorado had Bill worried about the quality¿and if the park would get finished,” says Byrd. “In order to reassure him that Omer was the right choice, I explained that I had skated Omer’s work at Badlands, and how a year after it was done he came back and replaced the coping with a molded lip at no charge. Finally Bill agreed, and Omer got the job.”
A plan was put together to hire Byrd, Windham, and a crew of their choice as city employeendash;this lowered the amount of required insurance and allowed them the use of the town’s excavating equipment, saving the city a lot of money.
In order to have the best crew possible, legendary Burnside builder Mark “Red” Scott was flown in to help. Other manpower came from local skaters, some of whose work actually counted as community service hours. Starting on August 1, the crew worked through many days of bad weather, and it wasn’t uncommon to see lights and workers at the site until three or four in the morning. By October 4, the Crested Butte Skatepark was finished¿almost 10,000 dollars under the city’s proposed budget.
The 7,200-square-foot park features a 9.5-foot deep end complete with aquamarine tiles and pool coping, a five-foot shallow end with a spine ramp, and a street course that was funded with the budget surplus. The park was designed to be beginner-friendly but still challenging to even the most advanced skater.
In the year it took from conception to completion of the Crested Butte Skatepark, it became apparent to Byrd that there was a real need for a company that could speak the skaters’ language, mediate and deal with municipalities in a professional manner, and¿more importantly¿build concrete parks correctly. Pooling their resources, Byrd and Windham decided it was time to start Spark Corporation. “By the time the park was done, I think I had answered every question imaginable,” says Byrd. “It made me realize what an uphill battle it can be to get a skatepark built even with a more-than-willing town council. I could really see how in some cities the efforts to build a skatepark might barely leave the ground.”
Even when they do leave the ground, without the right direction a city can often overspend and end up with a high-maintenance second-rate skateboard park. Spark Corporation is dedicated to working with cities from start to finish to ensure that never happens. “We are very adamant that cities use concrete instead of wood in the construction,” says Windham. “Not only will it last almost forever, but after one year it is more cost-effective per square foot.”
The benefits of using concrete do not stop there, according to Byrd and Windham; concrete saves space and allows the whole skatepark to be tied together. They also have found that insurance is often cheaper for contiguous concrete parks, as some insurance companies base their rates on the number of structures. “A concrete skatepark maximizes the amount of skateable terrain and should be considered one structure for insurance reasons,” says Byrd.
In addition to educating cities on the benefits of concrete over wood, Spark Corp. also stresses the importance of local-skater involvement in the design and construction of the potential skatepark. As skaters, Byrd and Windham understand what other skaters want in their park. At the same time, they can effectively communicate with the city in order to get skatepark legislation through the proper channels. “Having the local skaters involved in both the design and construction benefits everyone,” says Byrd. “It ensures that the city will get a park the skaters will actually use, more importantly, self-police.”
One of the most cost-saving arrangements in Spark Corp.’s Crested Butte Skatepark project was their being hired as city employees. “Being covered under the town’s insurance and having the use of their equipment eliminated a lot of unnecessary expenses and allowed us to keep costs down without sacrificing any quality of material or workmanship,” says Windham.
Spark Corp. is also able to lower the cost of skatepark construction in the design phase. Many cities spend way too much on fancy architectural plans that look really nice, but are not necessary. “We showed the council members that our hand-drawn plans were more detailed than most pool plans¿the closest thing to building plans for a skatepark¿and how our construction with rebar placement and concrete depth would exceed all building codes for pools,” says Windham.
The area in which Spark Corp. really shines is in the construction phase. Love of skateboarding makes their workmanship second to none. Fine details such as seam placement, radial contouring, and coping placement are done with one thing in mind¿skateboarding. The desire to skate the fruits of their labor gives them a work ethic that no other contractor could match. “I am pretty sure no other contractor would set up canopies so that he could work in the rain, or lights so that he could work most of the night,” says Byrd. “But Omer and his crew did numerous times.”
With more cities looking into building public skateparks, companies like Spark Corp. may be the type whose time has come. Windham’s concrete expertise and Byrd’s background in sales and working with town officials make for a strong partnership, giving Spark Corp. a solid foundation. “I cannot think of a better way to put your mark on skateboarding than to build a concrete park that will last and be skated forever,” says Byrd.
While most of us are content to dream about every city having a public skatepark, Byrd and Windham are making those dreams a reality.