Archive for Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Former mayor rolling on plans for skate park

April 16, 2003

Don't expect John Franiuk to go quietly.

Serving as Tonganoxie's mayor for the past four years cranked up Franiuk's civic juices. And he's ready to go to work again for the citizens of Tonganoxie.

"I would like to build that skate park, I really would," said Franiuk, who handed over the reins of city government Monday night to David Taylor.

It's likely that Franiuk, a residential plumbing contractor, can pull off the job. He's certainly determined.

"It's a big, big project," he said. "It's going to take a whole lot of time."

Nearly two years ago, several local teenagers approached Franiuk and other city officials about constructing a skate park. But without city funds or private fund-raising, a park has remained only a dream. A skate park constructed in Topeka cost $200,000, and Lawrence's skate park carried a $120,000 price tag.

The city of Tonganoxie set aside a few thousand dollars, and even worked with local youth on design ideas. City officials encouraged the youngsters to open a bank account to handle donations for a skate park, but no real fund-raising effort ever got off the ground.

Now, Franiuk wants to help.

"I think it would be a nice thing to have in our community for older kids," he said. "It's going to have to run on trust, it's going to have to be maintained by the people who use it. They're going to have to police themselves. The area can be observed. I see a lot of activity late at night at the basketball court. I haven't heard any complaints. I haven't seen anything on the police blotter. I think kids in this town are pretty respectful. They have good morals."

Money, of course, will be an issue.

"That's the part I'm working on," Franiuk said. "I'd love to build it with $5 donations, if that's possible. But unfortunately, that is probably not the reality of the situation. ... I'd really like to do it all with donated labor and donated materials. This community has come through with that before, just wonderfully. We're going to try it to see if we can make it work."

Franiuk, 39, himself a skateboarder as a youth, envisions a park on the east side of County Road 5, near VFW Park. The project, he said, could take up to a year.

"I want to get started as quickly as I can," he said.

And now, he has more time to devote to it, along with other civic activities.

During his tenure as mayor, Franiuk was hopeful the city could construct a community center. But other issues, such as obtaining more water for the city and constructing a new wastewater treatment plant, took precedence.

As mayor, Franiuk's weathered some trials. He and other city officials involved in the downtown improvement project were targets of criticism. And he's among defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by owners of three downtown businesses, stemming from conflicts rooted in the downtown project.

But for Franiuk, who moved to Tonganoxie in 1992, there are few regrets about his four years as mayor.

"I am glad I did it," he said. "I learned a lot about government. I've learned a lot about the people who live here. I'm real pleased. It's a nice comfortable feeling when you go to the auto parts store and the next five guys who walk in know your name and you know them. It's just neat. It's done a lot for me. I feel I belong more. Whether I'm accepted is another subject. I just know people and it helps it to feel more like home."

His new hometown, he believes, will continue to grow.

"I don't expect to see a big boom come to Tonganoxie," he said. "I don't think there will be hundreds of commercial buildings put up overnight. It's going to grow at a nice, modest rate."

During the next few years, Franiuk would like to use the information he's gathered as mayor to work to ensure the one-cent sales tax not be lifted in 2006.

The sales tax, which was enacted by county commissioners to help finance the new Justice Center in Leavenworth, also provides funding for city projects and expenditures.

"You don't have to put that on the mill levy," he said. "Politically, I would like to really become an advocate and work with the county commissioners on that."

And he is interested in establishing an endowment fund for the Tonganoxie Public Library.

But soon, very soon, Franiuk will begin work on the skate park.

He remembers the large hill that ran from his house in Kansas City, Kan., and what fun he and other neighborhood friends had rolling down that hill.

"I do kind of have a fascination with little wheels attached to your feet," he said, grinning broadly.

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