Burned Mankato skate park to be replaced
MANKATO — It was not a day for long speeches.
Freezing cold rain fell on the burnt remains of the Chesley Roller Skate Park, and the line of skateboards stuck nose first into a large mound of dirt.
The YMCA, so eager to break ground on the new facility, had flatly refused to cancel the Wednesday groundbreaking for a spot of bad weather, the crowd was informed.
"We've been waiting too long as it is," YMCA Director John Kind said, holding onto some very wrinkled, damp notes. "Let's get started on this."
It has been almost two years since the original Chesley Roller Sport Park on Jaycee Court burned down in a winter fire.
Area teens stood outside watching as their "home away from home" disappeared into flame and ash in February 2014. Word spread quickly among the skateboarding community, and one by one they arrived at the park. Most stood and watched the grand spectacle silently, helplessly.
"I was just traumatized," said Taylor Mason, who was in seventh grade at the time and watched the park burn. "It was the place where I grew up and met all my friends."
The cause of the fire remains unknown. The blaze was so intense by the time firefighters arrived they could not enter the building. For that and other reasons, investigators were not able to determine how or where the fire started.
The building had been named after Betty Chesley, who was a driving force behind its construction.
During her life in Mankato, she was known for being philanthropic. But perhaps her most visible contribution was the skate park.
While living in California, she noticed the proliferation of such facilities. She watched the skateboarding kids get better and better and marveled at their athleticism. Why, she wondered, shouldn't these kids get the same financial treatment kids in more mainstream sports get?
Today, her family continues to be involved in the skate park.
Her daughter, Ann Chesley Herlihy, volunteered to match the first $5,000 donated to the new park. She ended up vowing to give $95,000 instead. She gave her donation in the form of a stock, which eventually sold for $105,000.
The YMCA, which owns and manages the park, had just completed renovating the building before it burned down.
Efforts to reopen it were stalled when costs ended up being more than expected.
Though the YMCA had leased the former Mankato Fire Station No. 1 on Madison Avenue and opened it as a temporary skatepark in 2014, the building has since been renovated into a day care.
An outdoor skatepark at the former indoor facility's location is currently all that is available to area teens.
Until recently, the YMCA could not afford to rebuild the park, Kind said. The nonprofit went out for bids, but they all came back too high.
So the Y scaled back plans and teamed up with Max DeMars of APX Construction Group to get the skate park done for cheaper. Though nothing is set, Kind and the Y believe the new facility will cost a little more than $500,000 to be built.
"We needed help to make this happen and someone stepped forward who really has a heart for kids," Kind said of DeMars.