Maintenance facility will replace Steel Lake skate park, ball fields

Federal Way City Council approves site as skateboarders rally to save it.

Federal Way City Council approved the site for a new operations and maintenance facility, which will result in the removal of the beloved Steel Lake skate park, two ball fields and about nine acres of public parks land.

At the July 19 meeting, city staff presented the final three site selections for moving the dilapidated and dangerous current maintenance facility. The council approved the use of $250,000 in capital improvement funds to advance preliminary design of the operations and maintenance facility across the street on the Steel Lake Annex from the existing facility along South 312th Street and 28th Avenue South.

The city council approved the plans in a 4-3 vote. Councilmembers Lydia Assefa-Dawson, Hoang Tran, Jack Walsh and Jack Dovey affirmed the plans while Councilmember Erica Norton, Deputy Mayor Susan Honda and Council President Linda Kochmar opposed the preferred site selection.

The goal is for construction to be completed in 2025.

Save the skate park

Prior to the council’s discussion and vote, dozens of longtime Steel Lake community residents and avid skateboarders spoke during public comment with one shared message: Save the skate park.

“The young people in Federal Way deserve to have a skate park,” said resident Susan Strong.

Tacoma resident Kevin Harris, who spoke on behalf of the skate community, said the skate park keeps kids safe, active and engaged. Harris noted that if Steel Lake skate park is removed, skaters face approximately a 2-hour walk or over an hour on public transit to the next closest skate parks in Auburn, Kent or Northeast Tacoma until a replacement is built.

But for many young people, the issue isn’t about replacing the skate park — it’s about demolishing Steel Lake skate park, its skill difficulty and the spot of memories with new friendships and gnarly injuries.

“Steel Lake skate park is the only skate park in Federal Way,” said 17-year-old Logan Wilhelm, a skateboarder and Federal Way resident. In June 2021, Wilhelm took a fall without wearing a helmet and hit his head, went unconscious and was taken in Harborview Medical Center where it was discovered he suffered brain damage.

“But as soon as I was able to skate again,” Wilhelm said, “I could’ve died there and the first thing I did as soon as I was able to was I went back because I loved it so much.”

Over 25 residents at the meeting or who wrote-in comments urged the council to seek other sites that do not impact the ever-declining green community spaces and parks.

Location pros and cons

For the past 30 years, parks department employees have worked out of the former fire station along 28th Avenue South. The facility is located at 31130 28th Ave. S. and sits on a 4.1-acre, two parcel site.

The OMF division is responsible for maintaining and repairing streets, sidewalks, signs, signals, street lights, and storm drainage in the right of way, according to the city.

Ceiling tiles falling on employees heads, mold, unsafe wiring and near-fatal accidents due to inadequate equipment storage practices are some of the many reasons for needing a new facility, said Deputy Public Works Director Desiree Winkler at the July 19 meeting.

“We’ve been very lucky that no one has gotten killed in our maintenance yard,” said EJ Walsh, public works director.

In addition, unprotected storage of resources and equipment lead to frequent vandalism, theft and necessary — but costly — replacements, she said. In the past three years, there have been nearly 20 break-ins and upwards of $250,000 in loss or damage of equipment.

The city’s guidelines for selecting a new side required a location on the west side of I-5 in case of emergencies and access to resources, along with 10-12 acres of space and preferably on city-owned property.

The option for site 1 is located at the same location as the current facility and would require an expansion north, acquiring existing homes and displacing residents, for about $8 million to $10 million more than the projected cost.

Site 2 is the option of the Steel Lake Annex, moving the facility across the street, but demolishing two ball fields and the skate park. The Historical Society of Federal Way and the Karl Grosch soccer fields will remain.

The third site option is an undeveloped private property site along South 320th Street and 1st Avenue South that is not yet on the market. This site would cost an additional $16 million and impact surrounding wetlands and residents, and take away the opportunity for other future development.

Alternative options aside from site 2 would escalate the project total cost from $60.7 million to at least $106 million, according to the city.

Site 2 includes mitigation plans for the loss of park space, said Parks Director John Hutton. The city promised to replace the skate park and add lights, and plans to upgrade the ball fields at Lakota and Sacajawea to increase the usability.

The city is allocating approximately $450,000 to rebuild the skate park.

Hutton tentatively proposed rebuilding the skate park across the street and emphasized that the new design will be led by input from the skating community. The city also plans to build a walking trail around the site for community use.

The city is budgeting $33 million for construction with an additional $1 million for land and mitigation costs. New programming to be introduced at the need site is a fleet maintenance shop for $4.2 million and fueling ability for $700,000, along with additional parking. The total project cost projection is $38.9 million.

Skateboarders react

The 9,600 square foot Steel Lake skate park sits at 2645 S. 312th St. and is home to several obstacles, a quarter pipe, ramps, a stair set, and more for board enthusiasts to enjoy.

Wilhelm and a few other skateboarders attended the full council meeting, only to leave with disappointment after the council’s vote and a feeling their concerns weren’t heard.

“I feel like what we had to say didn’t make much of an effect,” said 16-year-old William Stewart, who also left work early in order to attend the meeting. “It’s not about having a skate park. It’s about having Steel Lake.”

If the park wasn’t important, said 20-year-old Oliver Belland, people wouldn’t have shown up.

“You can build another park,” he said after the meeting. “But you can’t replace that park.”

Steel Lake Skatepark. Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror