Newton Rotary pulls partners together to rejuvenate park

Chad Frey
The Kansan
2021 has been a good year for the skate park in Okerberg Park — and the best is yet to come. Newton Rotary secured grant funds for renovations coming this winter.,


This has been an exciting year for the Skate Park, located inside of Okerberg Park next to the Newton Recreation Commission.

New equipment — constructed by students in the career and technical education center at Newton High School — along with a first-ever event as part of a festival helped build some momentum for the park.

A new effort by the Newton Rotary Club will add more to that momentum.

"We want to reach out to a portion of the youth of Newton that are overlooked a little bit," said Greg Hanson, president of the Newton Rotary Club. "That is the skate park and the youth that go there. ... They may not be the star athletes in the community, but they are looking to do something athletic. ... It is just as much as athleticism as it is friendship and talking to friends."

The skate park is located within Okerberg Park,, 200 W. Fifth, next to the Newton Activity Center.

The Newton Rotary Club applied for a matching grant from the National Rotary Foundation, and as a result there will be nearly $10,000 available for renovations to the skate park facility.

"The park need addressing. There are some drug issues there. ... Students have identified it as a place where there are issues. We thought about what we could do there," Hanson said. 

There's also cracked concrete, and dirt with rocks washes onto the skate surface.

The Rotary project, done in partnership with Gaynor Electric, the city of Newton and the Recreation Commission, will address as many issues as possible — starting with security cameras and lighting.

"There needs to be more cameras there. Drug crime can be twarted by camera use and the chance of being caught on camera," Hanson said. "We adding lighting, make it easier for the cameras to pickup what is happening."

The Recreation Commission will be adding cameras to its building in an effort to deter vandals who have been in the park in recent years — the Rotary is chipping in to add extras above and beyond what the commission approved.

"We want to to broaden the scope," Hanson said.

LED lighting will be installed at the skate park for the area to both be more usable by skaters, and assist the security cameras being placed there.

The city offered to partner with the Rotary for the biggest piece of the project — new concrete. An estimated $5,000 in concrete work is slated for this winter and spring.

"There is some rocks and dirt washing into the park, and that doesn't mix with skating too well," Hanson said.

All of this comes out of work done at the park within the past year of so by Rotarians Lance Gormley Matt Hensley, who advocated on behalf of the skate park and its users for not only some improvements, but inclusing in the Sand Creek Summer Daze Festival — a festival which was first brought to life by Hanson.

"They came to me and said 'we need to get these kids into the festival.' ... We thought, lets have a skateboard event," Hanson said. "We had a pretty good turnout, and parents came out and saw what we are trying to do to help their students."

The advocacy that brought the park and skaters into the festival also resulted in improvements made earlier this year with the help of career and technical education students at Newton High School.

Tech students designed and fabricated new features for the skate park, which were later installed by the city. Three students were involved, fabricating three rail sets for the park. 

That started a little bit of momentum, culminating with the Rotary partnering with the city, Gaynor Electric and the Recreation Commission.

"All of them were very excited with what we are doing and worked with us very well," Hanson said. ... Our  board said this would be a good thing for the kids, and for the community. Writing the grant you have to look at who is going to benefit, how they will benefit and how it will benefit the community. It is good for a part of Newton that not a lot of people help with."