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“Time is of the essence” for Franklin’s new skatepark

For nearly a year, residents of Macon County and leaders of the town of Franklin have been working together on the construction of a new Skate Park. Recognizing the importance of recreational opportunities for the youth of Macon County, the town of Franklin voted to lease town-owned property located on the Whitmire Property and spent $15,000 on designs fees to develop a plan for a skate park in Franklin. With the design plans finalized, project supporters are now looking at how to come up with the estimated just over $120,000 needed to complete the project. 

On Monday night, about a dozen people showed up at the March meeting of the Franklin Town Council to show their support of the park. Tim Shaw, of the SK828Franklin initiative, shared that skateboarders have been “going door to door handing out flyers about the concept of a skateboarding park. The kids have raised $10,000 so far.” 

That $10,000 sits with the Southwestern Commission, which has agreed to act as the fiduciary agent overseeing the project. The proposed park will be a public, private partnership with funds going from various sources. With $10,000 already raised, the project still needs over $100,000 to become a reality. Shaw noted that JE Dunn, the contractors working to build Franklin’s new hospital, plan to begin moving dirt to the project site next week. The timing of securing the funds is now critical because the volunteer services ordered by JE Dunn will no longer be available once the new hospital is complete, which is expected to be this August. 

JE Dunn Construction was originally hired by HCA Healthcare to build the new Angel Medical Center in Franklin, but after learning of the public’s desire to see a skate park developed in Franklin, Project Superintendent Steve Suttles told members of the town council in June 2021 that the company was willing to volunteer to make the park a reality. The entire project has an estimate for the cost of materials for the project to be around $100,000, with much of the time and labor for the project being donated from HCA and JE Dunn partners. However, due to the specialty nature of the project, special contractors are needed to build the skatepark in addition to JE Dunn, which has resulted in an increase in cost. 

Communication issues paired with Franklin getting a new town manager the same time JE Dunn switched project managers, has resulted in some details needing to be clarified. It was originally understood that both HCA Healthcare and JE Dunn would help in the cost and fundraising for the project, but according to Franklin Town manager Aimee Owens, “I’m trying to resolve some communication issues with them. The way it was explained to me initially is that JE Dunn would take care of construction and fundraising, and then if there was a deficit they would come back to the Town and we would have that discussion about that and the needs.”

Town Council Member David Culpepper said the amount of supporters who have continuously lobbied the board for the project speaks volumes about the project’s importance. “Seeing the people here supporting skaters … it behooves us to provide a place for skateboarders to go and be with other like-minded individuals, and to have an outlet so that they can stay out of trouble,” said Culpepper. “We just have to [the Council] figure out at what level of support we’re willing to give.”

Members of the town council said they would like to see support from the Macon County Board of Commissioners, as many recreation projects completed within the county are often partnerships with both the county and the respective towns they serve. 

Waynesville installed a skatepark at the recreation center in 2013, which at the time cost $445,000. Cherokee also has a skatepark that is frequently utilized. The town of Highlands currently has a skatepark which was built in 2017. According to Highlands Recreation Director Lester Norris, the cost was $220,000, which was donated by the community. 

“The skate park is well used by locals and we have several groups that come from Franklin, Walhalla, SC, Cashiers, and surrounding areas to skate the park,” Norris said last May. “It is very beneficial to the community because before we built the park kids were riding them on the sidewalks, in the street, and anywhere else they could find to skate. So now they have a safe place to skate and just hang out with friends and is very popular.” 

Jackson County leaders are currently looking at constructing their own skatepark due to the increase in interest and requests from the public. Jackson County is taking on the project as part of its annual budget planning process. 

Owens informed members of the board that she will follow up with JE Dunn so the Town Council can “set the plan moving forward and do a memorandum of understanding.” 

Shaw told members of the town of Franklin that he plans to speak to members of the Macon County Board of Commissioners tonight (Tuesday) to ask for financial support for the project. 

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