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It is one of the most popular parks in the city. 

Its tennis courts were premier and served as the home facility for Roanoke Rapids High School.

Now the courts at Emry Park are run down, have cracks and weeds shoot up from the surface.

An effort, however, is underway to restore them to use half as a do-it-yourself skatepark and the other half for what purposes the city sees fit.

Parks and Recreation Director John Simeon said the courts have been vacant for about five years. “The tennis courts were built in 1977 and they have just outlived their lifespan. The standard for tennis courts is 20 years. Obviously, we are well past the 20 years.”

The last time the courts were resurfaced the project was done inhouse, Simeon said. “It was expensive and within three months these tennis courts were back to their original disrepair.”

Over the past five budget rounds the repair of the Emry courts has been presented to the city council, Simeon said, with the explanation to the governing panel they are no longer safe to play on. “We either need to remove them or replace them or repurpose them.”

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On the efforts of the group of skaters who are advocating for a DIY park at Emry, he said, “I would first like to applaud this group for their effort and the maturity of them to come to me and approach this in the right way — to sit down and work with us and see if there is a viable solution for a beginner, family skatepark area over there.”

Simeon said one of the current trends now is to make facilities family-friendly where they go out and skate together. “The elements are much smaller. You learn on those elements and you would graduate to our larger skatepark with larger elements here at T.J. Davis.”

The skatepark at T.J. Davis is considered an advanced facility, he said. The elements are larger and take more skill. “As a beginner this is probably not going to be where you start. That’s what we’re lacking here. We’re lacking that beginner skatepark — very similar to basketball where you start on an eight- or nine-foot goal and work your way up to a 10-foot goal.”

Simeon said he is not prepared to make a recommendation after the skaters make their proposal. “This would be more of an informational discussion to just let the city council know there is a group of about 400 community members that are getting together and talking about this. I do not have figures at this point. We’re working on seeing what it would take as far as dollars to bring this to fruition. The first run is to get everybody informed, let everybody meet everybody and understand what these community members want and try to put together and ask for some assistance.”

Simeon said the city is obtaining quotes now. “This is just in the infancy stage. We’ve got a lot of information to gather before any recommendation would be made.”

In budget discussions with the council the talk has been about removing the courts or replacing them. “We haven’t talked much on repurposing them and we have never advanced to those discussions because neither one of those have been funded. If this progresses I will incorporate our advisory board to come in and sit down to discuss other options that may be available.”

The second process after the council is up to speed would be to start gathering quotes and determining whether it can have concrete over asphalt or whether the asphalt will have to be removed. “Those are questions that we’re working out right now. Once we get those quotes then we would sit down with the group and start talking about possible funding sources.”

Simeon said if it gets to a point where the project is greenlighted the city would look at all opportunities. “That would mean grants, in-kind donations, possibly sponsorship and any other funding that would be applicable to this project.”

Simeon said he believes the group of skaters is serious about this. “I applaud their efforts. This is a process so it’s one step at a time. There are liability issues currently with the tennis courts and that’s why they have been not available for play. So there are safety issues, there’s liability issues. We’ve just got to take the time to work through all of these logistics to get to a point where we can start talking about the funding aspect.”

When the city was seeking opportunities for the T.J. Davis skatepark, he said there was a committee of 15 to 20 members. “We asked them to work with the design team to come up with the elements that are here at this skatepark. It was a group effort of skaters in our area — some who are with this group — that I worked with with the contractor to develop the skatepark here.”

At that time, Simeon said, the design at T.J. Davis is what the skateboarders and the committee wanted to see. 

However, he said, “The new trend is going to this (DIY) style of skatepark. Back when we built this (T.J. Davis) skatepark that was the current trend and what everybody wanted in skating. Now there’s this new trend and you see them in other municipalities where it’s a bigger skating area, there are much smaller elements and it’s more of a wide-open type skatepark where there’s a lot more skating than there is grinding, tricks, using elements at the park we have now.”

When the T.J. Davis skatepark was built, the committee wanted to make it multi-use, Simeon said, so BMXers could use it as well as skateboarders and scooter riders. “It was a park that was designed threefold for those enthusiasts.”

At Emry, T-ball is the biggest organized activity with approximately 10 to 12 teams participating this past year. “The shelter is very active. We do not or have the ability to track the numbers as far as who’s using the track and who’s using the playground but we are aware that both the playground and the walking track are heavily used.”

Emry is one of the most popular parks the city has, Simeon said. “It is the oldest park that we have that has a walking track and playground equipment. Back in the late 70s when it was built, Emry Park was the premier park in the city of Roanoke Rapids. Since then we’ve added Chockoyotte, we’ve increased our usage at Ledgerwood with a playground and picnic shelter, but Emry Park back in the late 70s was the premier park in the city of Roanoke Rapids.”

For the 2022-23 budget year the parks and recreation department had a quote of $80,000 to replace the Emry tennis courts. “Obviously, that quote would not be the same today but it would give you a ballpark figure.”

While not ready to give a recommendation, Simeon said, “I think it’s an excellent use of that area. I think it fits well with the park. It is another family opportunity. It is another family opportunity in which every park has the picnic shelters and all the other amenities that are family-oriented. They’re large enough to where not only could you take your family out there and go to the playground, the skatepark or the ballfield. I think it fits very well. In the infancy stage that we’re in right now we’re collecting data and then we will review that but first and foremost we must inform the council on what this community group is asking for.”