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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Church trying to deal with damage
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Above, the Rev. John Fulcher of First Baptist Church in Martinsville stands beside a hand rail allegedly damaged and broken by skateboarders at the church. The church is trying to balance being open and inviting to all, while trying to keep its property intact. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)

Monday, February 4, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Skateboarders — and the damage they have caused — have left First Baptist Church in a difficult situation.

“It’s put us in an awkward position,” said Rev. John Fulcher, pastor of the church at 23 Starling Avenue. “We want the church to be an inviting place, a place where people feel welcome and want to come. At the same time, you do have to protect the property.”

According to previous Bulletin reports, a ban on skateboarding uptown for those over the age of 14 has been discussed at several Martinsville city council meetings. The ban likely will be formalized at the Feb. 12 city council meeting.

The ban was proposed due to property damage caused by skateboarders in uptown Martinsville, particularly at the former Henry County courthouse, which since has had the damage repaired.

Skateboarders may also have damaged the First Baptist Church property, Fulcher said. Bricks, curbs and walls are chipped, and railings have been scarred and broken. The granite benches in the Keesee Memorial Garden have been chipped and defaced.

In many areas, the edges of curbs and benches have been smeared with a dark wax, which skateboarders use to reduce friction when “grinding” their boards on these surfaces.

According to Joe Hundley, chairman of the building and grounds committee at the church, a contractor was brought in two years ago to offer an estimate on repairing a damaged brick terrace at the front of the church. The estimate came in at $4,000.

“I would hope most would be surprised at the damage that’s being done,” Fulcher said, “although I’m sure that whoever was coming down that rail knew that he took the end-piece off it.”

Skateboarders started skating on the church property about 10 years ago, Fulcher said, although the number of skaters and the amount of damage both seem to be increasing.

“I see more of it now than I did,” Fulcher said. “It seemed like after the skateboard park was first built (in 2010, at the J. Frank Wilson Park nearby), I hadn’t seen them here in some time. Now it seems like I see more skateboarders around, and I see more damage than before.”

Fulcher and other staff members at the church even have seen parents drop their children off in the parking lot to skate.

“A former associate staff member approached a parent on a Saturday,” he said. “The adult was belligerent about it, (saying that) ‘Our kids need somewhere to play.’”

“It’s frustrating, and you hate to ask people to leave,” Fulcher said. “You hate to run people off from a church.”

Hundley agrees. “All churches want to be the good guys,” he said. “We want to be welcoming. What does that say when you have to put up no trespassing signs?”

According to both Hundley and Fulcher, the church decided not to put up no trespassing signs, but did install “no skateboarding” signs. Several of these signs have since been found destroyed in the parking lot, Fulcher said.

“Some of the members don’t like the ‘no skateboarding’ signs,” he said. “They don’t like the negative associated with the church.”

Hundley said that while the church has security cameras, there has been some talk of adding additional motion-sensing cameras in the areas most often used by skateboarders. There also has been discussion of modifying the curbs, rails and capstones outside the church to make them less appealing to skateboarders.

At present, the area is, according to Fulcher, “a skateboarder’s paradise.”

The main concern is one of safety, for church members and skateboarders alike. Fulcher worries that church members could trip on the broken bricks, and he fears that skateboarders could hurt themselves on the site.

“Particularly on that granite in the back (in the Keesee Memorial Garden), you could really injure yourself,” he said.

While a skateboarding ban in uptown Martinsville likely will be formalized at the Feb. 12 city council meeting, Fulcher doubts it will have a positive effect at the church.

“We were wondering if it may increase” skateboarding at the church, Fulcher said. “From what I was told, (the ban) covers public facilities, but not necessarily churches. ... If they can’t use the downtown area, they may head this way.”

There seems to be no easy way to strike a balance between stopping skateboard-related damage and maintaining an open and inviting church atmosphere.

“We would just like for the destruction to stop,” said Fulcher.


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