Students, community work to rejuvenate park

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Toby Lewis works on rails for the skatepark at Okerberg Park.

Lance Gormley's son wanted to start skateboarding, so he took his son to Okerberg Park near downtown — the only skate park in Newton. 

What he found was a place that needed a little TLC — needs including seating for parents and onlookers to repaired concrete and new equipment. Gormley started asking who was responsible for the park as he and his son started learning to skate. 

"It was six or seven months ago that I went down there and he wanted to start skating," Gormley said. "The first thing I noticed was that there was no place for parents or anybody to sit. I started asking individuals at the park about the place and the history of the place."

He started doing some skating himself to get a feel for what issues the park has — surface cracking of concrete and equipment needs rose into focus. 

"I started asking 'what can I do here to make things better for people,'" Gormley said. 

He met with the Rec Center, which shares the property. He met with city commissioners and administration. He met with civic clubs. And he started formulating a plan. 

"They all agreed that something needed to happen," Gormley said. "... Right now  there has been some money donated for a table there and there is pledged money from different organizations and individuals to try and invest in that place," Gormley said. 

A plan that go a shot in the arm when he went to meet Mike McConnell, the Newton USD 373 welding instructor at Brooks Trade Center and Newton High School. 

Material costs were paid by private donors. 

Eli Croxton and Toby Lewis work on creating rails for the skatepark at Okerberg Park.

McConnell took a look at the project, and signed his welding students on for a community service project to make three rails for use at the park. 

"Our SkillsUSA chapter looks for some community service projects throughout the year," McConnell said.  " It is good for our students to feel like they contribute something back into our community. It is selfless work and they need to learn that not everything is about money.  It is an integral part of the SkillsUSA student organization to do a variety of activities that build good work behaviors and sense of citizenship into our curriculum."

The program takes on one or two projects each year, based on size. McConnell estimated there will be about 30 man hours put into the park project when it is complete. 

Three students are involved, fabricating three rail sets for the park. 

"This year we have taken on only this project.  Since we are a community college/dual credit high school program, we have to manage our projects and fit them into the current curriculum and course offerings," McConell said.

Once completed, those rails will be reviewed by city staff, which will install those rails after they are approved. 

Gormley hopes those can be installed before an event coming to the park — a skate competition as part of the Sand Creek Summer Daze Festival. That event is scheduled for July 10. 

There's a new table for seating at the park thanks to private donations, and more work is on the way as funds are pledged. 

Students at Brooks Trade Center have created new rails for Okerberg Park as a service project.