LEWISTON – By the end of this month, a deal may be completed between the Town of Lewiston and the Lewiston-Porter School District for an $8 million town recreation center on the school campus.
After two years of planning, Supervisor Steven L. Reiter said he hopes to break ground this year. The complex would take nine to 15 months to build.
“It’s an opportunity for Lewiston to go one step farther and have a quality of life aspect that we didn’t have before,” Reiter said.
The recreation center, to be built on about 10 acres of land directly in front of the high school facing Creek Road, will feature a 90,000-square-foot multipurpose indoor athletic field that could be used be used for soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse or football.
There also will be a gymnasium and a chunk of open space that was intended to be the town’s new senior citizens center. That plan is up in the air now because many seniors have proved reluctant to move out of the current center on Lower River Road.
Arrangements are expected to be made for Lew-Port sports teams to practice or play in the center. But community leagues for children and adults, including soccer, roller hockey, flag football, volleyball, lacrosse, softball, also will be expected to set up shop there.
“There would be fees for certain uses, but some uses would be free,” Reiter said.
The center would be open to the public – indoor running and walking time is expected to be available – but it would also be used by Lew-Port, and perhaps other nearby school districts, who are in dire need of more space to accommodate all of their athletic programs.
“Gym space is at a premium,” said Lew-Port School Superintendent R. Christopher Roser.
Lew-Port’s campus has four gyms: in the high school and the middle, intermediate and primary schools.
That may sound like a lot, but if you have varsity, junior varsity and modified boys and girls basketball teams, wrestling teams and cheerleading squads, all looking for time to practice, four gyms isn’t much at all.
“The gyms are used until late at night,” Roser said.
But using some of the space in the rec center could solve that time crunch “so a family could actually eat dinner together in the evening,” Roser said. “We’re working out an agreement where we could use it. … We don’t think we’re asking too much.”
“We talked to the school and they were looking at a field-house type project,” Reiter said. The town’s rec center may solve that issue.
The deal for Lew-Port’s use of the facility could be a way to defray some of the town’s costs, Roser said.
Besides sports, the center would serve as an emergency preparedness center in case of power outages, floods or other extreme weather. The space also could be used for non-athletic events such as car, boat and craft shows, and could be rented for large parties and other community and private functions.
The building project won widespread support at a March 25 public hearing in Town Hall, except for the notion of moving the town’s senior citizen center to the new building.
Reiter said that won’t happen. The seniors will stay put in their current center on Lower River Road, but the space set aside for them in the new building – about 6.300 square feet of a total of 139,000 square feet – will remain available.
He thinks some senior activities could be held in the new building, in hopes of tempting the seniors into moving.
“Myself and the [town] board feel eventually, they’ll decide it’s a good thing,” Reiter said.
The senior citizen center is active, with some 15,000 users last year. Also, it’s a nutrition site for the Niagara County Office for the Aging senior citizen lunch program.
Kenneth R. Genewick, director of the Office for the Aging, said the Lewiston site is one of the county’s best attended, with an average of 35 meals served every weekday. He said the county has no plans to move the site.
Reiter said there had been some interest in a lease on the Lower River Road property from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Audubon Society, but they are stymied by the seniors’ preference not to move.
Beyond that issue, the main points still to be settled include a sale price for the 10 acres of land.
Roser said the district originally asked for $50,000 for the parcel, and the price is under negotiation.
“Right now, we’re doing an appraisal of the property,” Roser said. “We’re looking to sell it. If it’s school property, we can’t have someone develop it.”
The town chose the school property for its project after a request for proposals. Reiter said the price was the primary reason for choosing the school’s offer over two others that offered the sale of private property.
There have been some objections to the location because it’s not near the center of the town, as Town Hall is.
Reiter was talking to Niagara-Wheatfield Central School officials in late March about possibly having some school-related activities from that district at the new recreation center, to mollify objections from Sanborn-area residents, who live at a substantial distance from the Lew-Port campus.
He said there are two scenarios for operation and maintenance of the facility, which will be 35 feet high in some spots.
One would be to have the town manage it; the other would be to seek a private operator, with the town having preferential use.
There would not have to be a public vote on the project, although Reiter said the $8 million, 30-year bond issue the town will have to float to pay the cost would be subject to a permissive referendum, meaning one that is held only if enough petition signatures demanding one are submitted in a given period of time.
Another anticipated funding source is Niagara River Greenway money, distributed through the county’s Host Communities Standing Committee, where both the town and the school district are voting members. Reiter said the town will enter the Greenway process.
Helping justify that, there is a connection to a riverside trail at the Robert Moses Parkway about half a mile away from the center, he noted.
“It’s almost a perfect storm. We had the opportunity to do a project and the funding was there,” Reiter said.