Another symbol of what Lackawanna used to be may soon face a wrecking ball.
City officials are requesting $200,000 from Erie County to pay for demolition of the former Friendship House on Ridge Road – and debate already has started about what should be built in its place.
The badly deteriorated structure was condemned in 2007 and has been a frequent target of looters and vandals over the years.
“The building is beyond shot, which is too bad,” said Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski. “It was a great community center.”
During its heyday, the building was a hub of activity in the city’s 1st Ward, hosting an array of human services programs, a food pantry, a foster care program and a summer camp.
The City Council on Monday approved a request from Szymanski to raze the structure at 264 Ridge Road, which was home to the nonprofit Friendship House since the 1960s.
The former Bethlehem Steel Administration Building – a deteriorated, but architecturally stunning landmark and symbol of Lackawanna’s former steel might – was torn down last year amid protests from local preservationists. Friendship House wasn’t nearly as iconic, but it still brings to mind images of better days in the city for some residents because it served as a community anchor for many years.
“It was real popular. There’s no doubt about it,” Szymanski said.
The nonprofit agency struggled financially for years after losing a federal sexual-discrimination lawsuit in 1997 that awarded $459,759 in damages to a former employee and eventually closed its doors.
At least one lawmaker already has his mind set on future use of the property.
First Ward Councilman Abdul Noman submitted a measure Monday asking that the land be set aside for a new recreation center and splash pad.
The city hasn’t had a community center where youth and others can gather since Friendship House closed, Noman said. The 5 acres on which the building sits, he said, is “the only land left in the city. If we develop it for a company, where are our youth going to go?”
Noman said state money is available to fund the splash pad.
Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, who attended the meeting, said Lackawanna was in a good position to receive a grant through a state Greenway program that rewards capital projects within 2 miles of a waterway.
“One of the requirements is there has to be a proximity to the lake,” Kearns said, adding that he was encouraging city officials to consider the splash pad.
Lackawanna does not have a city pool or splash pad, and having one would help prevent future accidental drownings in the Union Ship Canal.
Kearns said a pool and splash pad in Buffalo and Woodlawn Beach in Hamburg are too far to walk for most Lackawanna youth.
According to Marcia A. Cullens, the city’s recreation director, a better spot would be a plot of land close to the Lackawanna Library, which is still within 2 miles of Lake Erie.
Szymanski, in an earlier interview, said that no money has been made available for a community center or a splash pad. “There is no fixed plan for [the Friendship House property] right now, other than removing the blight,” he said.