Christian Hallowell of Bath executes a jump with his scooter off a ramp at the Midcoast Youth Center’s indoor stake park on Monday. Hallowell said he has been coming to the park twice a week for the past four years. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

Upgrades to the skate park at Bath’s Midcoast Youth Center are helping the center continue to provide a valuable place for area youths that have a growing need for services.

Professional skateboarder and Maine native Jud Heald was among those who lent his expertise to the skate park’s upgrades this week.

Heald now lives in St. Joseph, Missouri, but he grew up in Skowhegan. When a friend in Augusta who is also building a skate park told him that the Bath-based center needed help with some upgrades, he didn’t hesitate to offer his help. He said local skaters are lucky to have an indoor place to use, and with an attached youth center as well.

“A normal skate park isn’t normally like that,” he said.

Local skaters said the skate park is a welcome haven for them, some saying the recreational outlet helps them stay out of trouble.

Aquil Alaboudi said he hangs out there almost every day, and now volunteers at the center, which he credits with changing his life for the better. He started coming four years ago when he was in seventh grade. At the time, Alaboudi said, he was getting “straight D’s and F’s” in school, but now gets straight A’s and B’s. He credits the structure of the center in helping him do better in school, and for him, the skate park offers a vital service.

“It’s a place to get away from the real world,” he said. “Skating is an escape.”

When asked what he’d be doing without the center, he gestured out the front door and said, “I’d be out there, probably doing some illegal things.” He added that his friends would most likely be getting into trouble too without the center.

“A lot of that can go wrong, you know?” he said.

Recent data shows there may be a growing need for extracurricular activities for local kids. The 2019 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, produced every other year by the state department of Health and Human Services, asked students in Sagadahoc County in grades 6-12 about a number of issues including use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, as well as mental health issues such as depression and suicide.

According to the 2019 results, 35% of area high schoolers said they felt “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities” over the previous 12 months, compared to just over 30% in 2017. The survey also indicated that during the past 12 months, just over 19% of high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide, up from almost 18% in 2017. On the middle school level, 24.1% said they had considered killing themselves, up from almost 21% in 2017.

The survey showed marijuana use is also on the rise in the county. The percentage that reported trying it before age 11 went up from 12.2% in 2017 to 20.4% in 2019. The number of middle schoolers who admitted they smoke pot went up from 8.6% in 2017 to 10.5% in 2019. At the high school level, 35.1% of students surveyed in 2019 said they’d tried marijuana at least once, up from 32.7% in 2017.

Isabella Short-Galuza works part-time at the center but said she spends much of her free time there anyway.

The Midcoast Youth Center in Bath has just completed upgrades to its indoor skate park with the help of professional skateboarder and Maine native Jud Heald. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

“Usually, all my friends are here,” she said.

Short-Galuza said she doubted she would be getting into mischief it if weren’t for the center, but she said it’s likely some of her friends would if they had no place to go after school.

“It keeps everyone on track,” she said.

Heald also he was touched by the commitment of the staff, not just to the park, but to the young people who use it. “There’s people here who care about the kids,” he said.

Bob Gray, the youth activities coordinator for the center, showed off the skate park’s improvements on Monday, including new ramps and obstacles made out of fresh plywood and other basic building materials. The center paid $4,000 for the raw materials, and paid for Heald’s food and lodging while he helped install the new equipment. Gray also said Kyle Whalon, a contractor based in Brunswick, volunteered his time to help with construction.

“Basically, we just remodeled things to be higher quality,” Gray said.

Gray said he could remember when the park was first built, in 2002 in a downtown location next to the library before moving to its current location in 2013. He said he spent all his spare time there, and that it helped him find a purpose in life.

“If I didn’t have the skate park, I don’t think I would have had something to be passionate about,” he said.

Gray said that the center’s skate park helps give area youths a sense of direction and purpose.

“If they weren’t here, they’d be roaming around Bath looking for something to do,” he said.

Alaboudi said he thinks the upgrades will only increase the skate park’s popularity.

“I think now that we have new equipment, we’re going to have a lot more kids in here,” he said.

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