Lauridsen Skatepark Planning and Design
When the idea of building a skatepark along the Des Moines riverfront came before the city council in 2004, no one could have envisioned the seventeen-year journey ahead to make it a reality. After years of grassroots organizing, fundraising, and more than a few design changes, the Lauridsen Skatepark became a reality. Offering over 88,000 square feet of skateable area, it was quickly billed as the largest skatepark in the United States.
Find out how our team of Landscape Architects and Structural Engineers worked with Polk County Public Works, the City of Des Moines, and California Skateparks to design and build this impressive facility — all in time to host the first Olympic qualifying event for skateboarding.
- Introduction (00:18)
- Improving Youth Recreational Opportunities in Des Moines (1:13)
- Stakeholder & Community Organization (1:50)
- Fundraising for the Lauridsen Skatepark (3:22)
- Designing the Largest Skatepark in the Nation (5:29)
- Skatepark Site Design and Construction Challenges (6:05)
- Creating Slope Stability (6:34)
- Site Utility Coordination (6:59)
- Accommodating Varying Soil Conditions (8:06)
- Adjusting Skatepark Design for Site Conditions (8:59)
- Retaining Wall Systems (9:47)
- Park and Street Course Design (10:45)
- Incorporating Skills Development Components (11:44)
- Specialized Concrete Form Fabrication (12:36)
- Skateable Art Installation (13:47)
- The Dew Tour Considers Moving to Lauridsen Skatepark (15:11)
- Accelerating Construction to Accommodate the Dew Tour and Olympic Qualifying (17:10)
- Lauridsen Skatepark Brings Recognition to Des Moines (19:20)
Tim West (00:18)
I’m Tim West. I’m a Project Manager and a Landscape Architect with Snyder & Associates, the designated Project Manager for the Lauridsen Skatepark project, as well as the lead Construction Administrator. We were assisting Polk County Public Works in making sure the project was constructed properly and per the plans and specifications. We were also in charge of making sure that the construction and design communication flowed through all the different entities that were involved.
Brad Anderson (00:45)
Hey everyone, my name is Brad Anderson and I’m one of the co-chairs of the skatepark committee. I’ve been associated with the skatepark from 2017 to the present.
Tim West (00:54)
The skatepark is a six-acre site along the Des Moines River. It’s state of the art and served as the first Olympic trial event for skateboarding in the United States. The skatepark has 88,000 square feet of skateable area, which makes it the largest skatepark in the United States. We’d like to talk about how this project started.
Improving Youth Recreational Opportunities in Des Moines
Brad Anderson (1:13)
Thanks, Tim. I’m going to walk you through how this park started from dream to reality. The concept for building a grand skatepark started at the grassroots level, it was led by AMOS, which is A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy, it’s an organization that does a lot of grassroots organizing here in Des Moines. They asked a simple question early on, “What can we do to improve the lives of kids in Des Moines?” They went from community to community, and they found the answer was more outdoor recreation and they landed on the idea of a skatepark.
Stakeholder & Community Organization
Brad Anderson (1:50)
The idea quickly went from building a skatepark to a grand vision of a big park with the ability to host national tournaments. They wanted it designed by experts and the involvement of skaters, and they also wanted it in a cool location between the Des Moines River and the Wells Fargo Arena.
They had to pitch this idea, so they went to church basements and community centers across Des Moines to pitch the idea of a big skatepark. This was driven by kids and in 2004 they pitched it to the city council and the city council formally approved the idea.
The journey involved 70 businesses and organizations, the skating community, skate shops, and people affiliated with skate culture. We had hundreds of individuals who contributed, signed petitions, and were involved throughout the journey to make it happen.
My involvement started in 2017. I asked Des Moines Council Member, Chris Hensley, as well as Polk County Supervisor Angela Conley to join me and form a committee. That’s really what kicked off the fundraising effort that led to the successful building of the skatepark.
There’s a rendering of what we see today. A lot of people put these skateparks underneath bridges or on the outskirts of town. Here in Des Moines, it’s centered and accessible to kids, which is the best of all worlds because you can drive by it and see it on 235, it’s got the river next to it, and it’s accessible to a lot of kids. It’s an excellent location.
Fundraising for the Lauridsen Skatepark
Brad Anderson (3:22)
In 2015, the Community Foundation Leadership Circle Challenge Grant came to be, and this is where some high-level philanthropists within the community foundation pooled their resources and land on a big project every year. One of the projects they landed on was this skatepark. They loved the idea, so in 2015 they put half a million dollars on the table. This giant amount of money expired and needs to be matched by December 2017.
We must find a way to make sure we get that match. So, Angela, Christina, and I talked to the community foundation, they allowed us to put our committee together and we got the grant extended into the next year. The whole project at the time was about three and a half million dollars. We knew that we needed some big money to come in early. We got some interest from a lot of donors; Mid-American Energy, Community Choice Credit Union, Prairie Meadows, and Wells Fargo, a ton of great donors. I will never forget February of 2018 when we were looking for a million-dollar naming rights contribution. I got the phone call that tLauridsen’sens had agreed to a one-million-dollar contribution. That was a pivotal moment and set us on a path to success.
At that point, we got a call from the community foundation, and they said, “We have a private donor that wants to put a skateable art feature into the park.” We had this international competition where artists from all over the world came in to pitch us on skateable art and the result was unbelievable.
It was also at that moment we were raising money, and Tim is going to talk to you about some of the construction challenges we had to deal with, which meant we had to raise more money. A one-year fundraising effort quickly became a three-year fundraising effort. At the time, the square footage that we were talking about, put us about second or third in the nation in terms of skateparks size.
So, someone at the table said, “Why don’t we just make it the largest skatepark in the nation? We’re already raising all this money. What’s it going to take to make the largest skatepark in the nation?” Immediately everyone at the table is like, “That’s what we need to do.” You have to dream big to capture the imagination of potential donors. As soon as we said, “Let’s build the largest skatepark in the nation.” The donors were intrigued by the idea and the donations started coming in.
Designing the Largest Skatepark in the Nation
Brad Anderson (5:29)
So, there we are groundbreaking on October 15th, 2018. At that point, we still had some challenges to deal with.
Tim West (5:37)
2018 Skate DSM starts the fundraising off, and we’ve had a groundbreaking, and my team at Snyder & Associates and Shuck-Britson got involved. We teamed up with California Skateparks, and we were operating under the umbrella of Polk County and Polk County Public Works. We were challenged with creating a design project and construction documents to move as quickly as possible and to start building things as soon as they were designed.
Skatepark Site Design and Construction Challenges
Tim West (6:05)
Our charge was to deal with the site conditions and find out how we were going to make this conceptual drawing a reality. As you may remember, this site is a significant hill and was about a five to one to six to one slope. We needed to create a large flat pad area so that we could place this large 88,000 square foot footprint on a flat surface so that it could exist on this hillside. There were several things that we had to look at right away.
Creating Slope Stability
Tim West (6:34)
Slope stability was the first; understanding how much of a slope and how much retaining wall we could build on the project area. We also had an added challenge that the skate area wasn’t nailed down yet. So, we tried to keep a large oval shape to reserve for the skatepark as it’s being designed in more of a final state. We had to maximize that padded area. We also had flood elevations, permitting, and river modeling in that area.
Site Utility Coordination
Tim West (6:59)
We also had to look at utilities. This drawing’s probably a little hard to see, but all the lines are utilities that cross through this area. The ones that go from East to West on your page are North and South. There was a major electrical transmission line that went through that area, along the river. There are high lines and high voltage. There’s an easement associated with that, which you have to stay clear of. There are also two trunk sewers located on this property, a 42-inch sewer main and a 60-inch sewer main. Those are represented by the brown lines. There’s a 16-inch-high-pressure gas line. A large electrical feeder came through this area as well.
You also have lines crossing out of downtown. There’s a large fiber line underneath the river and back up on the other side and two large storm sewer lines, depicted in the green lines. We had to maintain flows during construction so that we didn’t interrupt any storm sewer service downtown.
We had to locate and expose some of the utilities, and understand their depths, sizes, and exact locations. In the end, the only thing we had to relocate was a little bit of storm sewer vertically, and an electrical main, which Mid-American came in and did after the retaining wall work.
Accommodating Varying Soil Conditions
Tim West (8:06)
We also had to take a close look at the soils. We identified, through historic research, many coal mine entrances, which are depicted in red. We also had a bunch of unconsolidated fill. Those old fills weren’t nice compacted engineered fill, it was a mix of concrete, glass, cinders, and plastics. There was even coal in some of the borings that we took. That unconsolidated fill has the potential for settlement and soft spots. Then we have the opposite problem in some parts of the site where we have weathered bedrock and shale that extends from the shallowest point at 2 feet, down to 17 feet deep. This line in yellow depicts the extension of those bedrock and shale layers. We knew we were going to be dealing with structural design on top of very firm bedrock and unconsolidated fills as we moved in and out of different soil horizons.
Adjusting Skatepark Design for Site Conditions
Tim West (8:59)
So, what we started with from California Skateparks had to be redesigned. We took their Master Plan and tweaked it through our design, based on the utility locations, the slope stability, the retaining wall design, and the access, due to the 30-foot elevation change and came up with a different master plan, which has a large switchback sidewalk, and provides accessibility down to the skate promenade. The skatepark proper was narrowed and lengthened so that we could fit it on a narrower footprint. In August of 2019, we worked over the winter with California Skateparks and got far enough along that we felt comfortable to start construction.
Through the efforts of McAninch stripping and clearing the site. We had to start excavating large walls so that we could create this large pad area. You can see in the background that a storm sewer is exposed there. We had to drop that down and allow for that to cross under the skatepark.
I identified some areas where we had some soft or unconsolidated fill. Shuck-Britson, our Structural Engineer, designed a large spread footing that we could bridge over a number of those different areas.
Retaining Wall Systems
Tim West (9:47)
It was really important to have a wall system that could go through any of those different types of soil layers. Here’s a photo of people working on the original north portion of the wall, where we started. Another good look at some of the rock and shale that they had to excavate through to set the pad. Here’s a shot to the south showing the big concrete retaining wall that would create the backbone of the project.
Other parts of the park didn’t require the large, expensive, rigid retaining wall system that we designed for the north part. We designed a wall system that was a little more flexible based on modular units that would allow for a little bit of settlement, yet not degrade the structural integrity of the wall.
Park and Street Course Design
Tim West (10:45)
So, we had created this large platform through our wall work, our utility work and we were ready for the skatepark and that’s when Zach and his team started to roll out their final designs. This is the park course, one of the two Olympic courses. Its high quality has a high degree of difficulty and is designed to host amateur to world-class professional events. It’s got 10-foot vertical transitions throughout, hips, extensions, escalators, gaps, rails, and transfer areas a lot of components wrapped into one skateable area.
The street course is the other Olympic course also has a high degree of difficulty associated with its design and skateability. This contains a lot of ledge types, rails, steps, banks, gaps, hips, and transfers. A lot of different components that maximize creativity as you’re doing your different types of runs. This is kind of a two-level swimming pool, or ameba pool area, five foot ten inches in the shallow end and eight-foot six inches in the deep end.
Incorporating Skills Development Components
Tim West (11:44)
This is the flow bowl and behind it, the snake run, and this is the area that was specifically designed for training and skills development. This park was unique in that it spanned a gap from professionals down to beginners. Someone who’s training, someone who’s more recreational, someone learning the sport can be with other skaters at that same skill level and graduate out into other parts of the park.
The largest area that spans the entire park is the skate promenade. There are curbs, rails, half-pipes, quarter-pipes, ramps, banks, and curbing associated with this long linear stretch. This is 1,200 feet long and goes all the way down, you can kind of see some of the quarter pipes in the background. Almost a half-mile in length and stretches the entirety of the Lauridsen Skatepark.
The four flat four incorporates steps, rails, and curbs into multiple skateable component areas. Same with the 16-stair.
Specialized Concrete Form Fabrication
Tim West (12:36)
We got the design done, we’re ready to get to work. California Skateparks moved in the spring of 2020 and started to work on how they were going to get all of this formed out and excavated. A lot of specialty formwork. This is a great picture showing all the rebar and reinforcement associated with it. You can see some of these special forms that are very curvilinear, set the shape of the component. All the metal and all the formwork were fabricated and shaped on-site. They had a couple of different areas where they did all of this fabrication and would just take it steps away to incorporate it into the concrete work or the edges of different skate components. It was quite impressive to see the work that they brought in and were able to do on-site.
Here are a few photos after the shotcrete finish where they spray concrete through a pneumatically projected hose onto vertical and horizontal surfaces. This is pretty precise in developing these curved and shaped surfaces. The drains were incorporated ahead of time creating drainable surfaces. That promotes well-drained soil reducing heave and thaw. Here’s a set of stairs that are associated with the street course.
Skateable Art Installation
Tim West (13:47)
Then we moved into the Wow. As they’re working on the components for the skatepark proper, we worked with metal fabricators to get the Wow delivered in the late summer of 2020. That’s located on the south end of the promenade. We wanted it fairly close to the switchback so people coming down from Wells Fargo and the 2nd Avenue corridor would be able to identify this art piece and be able to look at it from the different vantage points above. It also anchors the south end of the skatepark.
There’s an 84-foot long by 4-foot wide by 4-foot-deep reinforced concrete footing to keep that Wow anchored; three-quarter-inch steel plating and it’s 12-feet tall. This is after it was craned into place and attached. We started to take a look at the support mechanisms.
We started to design stabilizers, but in the meantime, the Wow needed to be painted. They selected candy apple red for the Wow to make it pop and to emulate the artist’s original thoughts. Here’s the end product, you can see these stabilizers were painted in gray that matched the sidewalk they blended in, and you still saw the Wow cursive element. All these areas are skateable. They’re all flush with the concrete so that you transfer right from the concrete onto the metal surfaces. That was very specifically designed by our structural engineers and Zack with California Skateparks. It’s an extremely popular element in the park. The artistic value is just an out-of-this-world type of element.
The Dew Tour Considers Moving to Lauridsen Skatepark
Tim West (15:11)
We were at the tail end of 2020, the Olympics had been postponed until 2021, due to COVID. We were trying to get as far as we could by the end of the year and wanted to button up the project for the winter and then complete it in the spring of 2021. We were targeting a July completion date. We had heard that California had shut down all of their public areas, particularly the skateparks, and that had inadvertently caused the Dew Tour to not have a home for 2020 and 2021 potentially.
That led them to worry about where they might have an Olympic qualifying event. Since the Olympics had gotten postponed until 2021, they were looking at postponing their Dew Tour event to 2021 as well. Since they couldn’t utilize the skateparks that were in California, that they had previously planned on. They started to look elsewhere. They started to look at Des Moines and this was November of 2020, and their event was set for mid-May of 2021. There was a lot of concern as to whether we could have the Des Moines site ready for this large event.
The skatepark was about 75% complete. The switchbacks from the Iowa Event Center were about 50% complete at this date. We hadn’t even started the skate promenade. So, this photo shows how far we had gotten on that November 9th date that we heard that they were going to be interested in Des Moines and about 60 days to complete the project. On top of the work that we had to do to get the skatepark construction finished. They also approached California Skateparks about adding in work for special branding, painting on the metal surfaces that would be specific to the Dew Tour. We need to establish viewing areas, media areas, and all sorts of different components that would be added into the work effort to try to get the park done by May 10th. This is a picture of May 10th.
Accelerating Construction to Accommodate the Dew Tour and Olympic Qualifying
Tim West (17:10)
This is where we were at, November 9th in 2020 when we found that we might need to have this thing completed by the following May. We still needed to complete a lot of the flatwork in the street course and some of the bowls, the switchback was about 50% done. So, we hurried up and tried to get as much work done before the winter started. You can see where we got most of the skatepark completed, and the extension of the switchback the Wow is in and painted, but we hadn’t started on any of the promenade elements or bypass trail, overhead structures. Of course, there are a bunch of different components that would be required to finish off the work, including all of the metalwork.
We were not able to do anything over that winter, but on March 9th, McAninch moved in in 2021 to start prepping the promenade subgrade, and then California Skateparks moved in on March 12th. So, we could meet the May 10th completion date. We started exactly sixty days before the completion date to try to finish all the earthwork, pavements, and the final touches. Normally we wouldn’t be able to guarantee any site work to start until April 15th, but everyone on the team was excited to get moving, tried to get in early, and was dedicated to getting the project completed on time so Des Moines could host the Dew Tour and the first Olympic qualifying event.
You can see the promenade went in fast. The skate components got built quickly and then we got to mid-May when the Dew Tour started to set up all their different components.
Brad Anderson (18:22)
This is a photo I took of the Dew Tour, as you can see, it’s beautifully located. The first site visit the Dew Tour had was that snow-covered February which you saw in Tim’s timelapse video. They loved the capital in the background with the river there, and they knew exactly where they were going to put everything. So, this picture captures the vision of the Dew Tour.
This is the street course, the other Olympic qualifying event. The skatepark opened and two weeks later this event was taking place. It’s just incredible, the whole thing from start to finish, we were able to pull it off and Tim and his team just did such an incredible job.
That is the ribbon-cutting behind us, believe it or not, are skaters from Des Moines, but also hundreds of athletes. I did not realize they were already in town because the second we cut the ribbon, they wanted to start training in the park so they can get ready for the Dew Tour and qualify for the Olympics. So, there were a bunch of pro skaters behind us, we did not even know about, and they immediately started showing their stuff and it was awesome to see.
Lauridsen Skatepark Brings Recognition to Des Moines
Brad Anderson (19:20)
One of the remarkable things that happened as a result of building the largest skatepark in the nation and some of the national attention we’ve received is, if you go to the skatepark over the summer in the evening, I don’t care if it’s a Wednesday or a Friday or a Saturday. It is jam-packed with kids. If you go there in the morning, it’s jam-packed with kids. It’s super exciting to see that the kids have embraced it. They’re working with each other, encouraging each other to use all the elements.
One of the best things about this skatepark, in particular, is when the guy from the Tony Hawk Foundation came by and was walking with me across the skatepark, he was saying, “I get paid to go to skateparks all over the country and this is the hands-down the best skatepark I have ever been to.” I said, “What is it? Is it the scale? Is it the location?”
He said “you know what it is? It’s that.” and he pointed to this dad holding his daughter’s hand as he’s teaching her how to skate and he said, “This skatepark has elements for everybody and there’s no other skatepark in the country that has elements for beginning skaters up to the pros. This person who’s learning how to skate now will gravitate through these elements and become an excellent skater and the next wave of Olympians is going to come from Des Moines, Iowa.”
I just have to say, it has been an unbelievable journey, and Tim, I want to thank him and his team for their patience with us when we’ve got the clock ticking. We needed the perfect spring to happen to get it done and Tim made that happen. So, I appreciate everyone’s effort. I want to thank the whole team because it was a team effort. Great to see.