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IN SEA BRIGHT, WHOLE TOWN’S ON BOARD

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

At Long Branch’s Skateplex recently, a four-year-old boy in long shorts, t-shirt and oversized helmet stands hesitantly atop a ramp with one foot on a skateboard almost as long as he is tall.

As other kids go sailing down the incline, the reluctant boy’s father tries to coax him to do the same.

“He crashed last week, and now he’s scared,” the man says, explaining that his son had suffered just a few minor scrapes. Still, he adds, his son “begs to come here every day.”

That’s why the former Sea Bright resident, who asked not to be identified, says he supports a proposal to build a $367,000, state-of-the-art skate facility in Sea Bright.

“They’re going to skate anyway,” he says of the kids zooming up, down and across the Skateplex, “and better here than in the street.”

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That logic — and the unusual appearance of 30-skateboard-toting kids at a recent borough council meeting — has helped the proposal win what appears to be near-universal support in Sea Bright.

Recreation committee member Susana Markson, who’s running for borough council, claims that in her door-to-door campaigning she has only come across one person, an “older” man, who she “could not convince” that the skate park was a good idea.

Though there are barely 200 children living year-round in the beachside burg, and even though the Skateplex is just a few miles away and another is planned just up the road in Atlantic Highlands, Sea Bright officials and skaters say the need for a new, better park in the heart of town is compelling.

“This has been our dream for two years,” says councilwoman Peggy Bills, co-chair of the recreation committee. “There’s no place for the kids to go.”

Those who venture to Long Branch will often find the Skateplex “very crowded, especially in the summer,” says Marcus Novak, a Monmouth County park ranger who supervises the Skateplex.

In town, sporadic enforcement of an ordinance that bans skateboarding on borough streets entices some skaters to take their chances with the law — and with the cars on Ocean Avenue, says Bills.

A skatepark is much less dangerous, she says, adding that the borough’s will be free of charge, supervised, and meet insurance guidelines for safety. “It’s just like riding a bike,” she said.

Novak, whose duties include enforcing the helmet rule and generally keeping order, says there is rarely any trouble or any serious injury at the Skateplex. “The kids are real good,” he says.

Proponents are hoping to land a $153,000 Monmouth County grant to enable the the town to build its own park at 1051 Ocean Avenue, part of the former Peninsula House site.

The park, they contend, will be larger and superior in design and construction to other skateparks, including the Skateplex, which the county paid $1.6 million for just three years ago.

Bills’ committee has held planning meetings with engineers and skateboarders to collect ideas for the design, which was prepared by pre-cast skatepark builder Spohn Ranch of southern California. Unlike most skate parks in the county, Bills says, the proposed park will be bowl-shaped and made of poured concrete, not cheaper materials such as steel or plastic. The large bowl was the design element that was most requested, says Bills.

Then there’s this: the skatepark fits into the oceanfront redevelopment envisioned by the town’s Smart Growth plan, and will help in make the town more of a summer destination, which many residents feel is long overdue.

Public support should help persuade Monmouth County to help pay for the facility, Markson says, although there is competition for the funds from other towns such as Hazlet, which also wants to build a skatepark.

The grants are given each January under the county’s Municipal Open Space Grant Program, which regards skateparks as meeting the recreation component of its criteria, says parks spokeswoman Susan Walsh.

To qualify, towns must match the county funds and complete construction of the facilities within two years of winning the grant.

“Sometimes communities think it would be nice to have something, but then cannot raise the money to complete the grant,” Walsh says.

In Sea Bright, backers hope to pay for the borough’s share with private donations instead of taxes. Already, about $30,000 has been raised, says Bills.

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