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TOWN OF NIAGARA – A major renovation project at Veterans Memorial Park, including some expensive and controversial dugouts, is going before the Town Board this week.

Supervisor Steven Richards has sponsored a resolution to direct the town engineers to design and bid out $650,000 in improvements to the park, all to be funded through money negotiated in the settlement with the New York State Power Authority.

The project will include a splash pad for youngsters, an expansion of the playground, a fountain for the pond plus the eight baseball dugouts a majority of the Council rejected at its August meeting.

The dugout portion was turned down because several of the Council members balked at the $228,000 price tag. Originally targeted at $72,000, the dugouts are designed to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and will have features that will help prevent vandalism.

The project could be decided at Tuesday’s meeting or reviewed again Thursday.

Lee Wallace, recreation director, told the board at its last work session that the dugouts are needed to provide safety for players and fans and to establish crowd control.

The problem now, he said, is that it is “impossible to control parents and other kids” from entering the field. There is nothing to restrict them from entry other than white lines painted on the grass and instructions he hands out on fliers.

“It’s not a good situation. It needs to be addressed,” he said.

Richards and Deputy Supervisor Danny Sklarski, who backed the dugouts the last time, termed it a question of safety.

“You have to consider the safety factor,” he said. “We’ve had injuries in the past.”

Richards added that the town would be paying “a lot of money for injuries” if the dugouts are not provided.

Councilman Marc Carpenter said the issue “has nothing to do with safety” but rather with “sticker shock.” He noted that the final cost came in much higher than the original estimate.

He suggested that the board could review the cost of the dugouts along with the other renovations “to approach it all together” before the project is authorized.

Richards responded that he felt the project should be “the best for our residents – something they can be proud of.”

The project would include a fountain in the center of the pond fed by an underground pipe, it was noted. Highway Superintendent Robert Herman said because there is no aeration in the pond now, there is “trouble keeping fish alive in the pond.” The fountain would provide circulation and air for the water.

Also on the drawing board are the splash pad with sprinklers, the playground expansion to accommodate 10 new swings and teeter-totters for the handicapped, and a new roof for the picnic shelter.

Both Richards and Sklarski said the project wouldn’t cost local taxpayers any money, as the town would use the Power Authority settlement award and maintenance would come from the $400,000 the town gets in the settlement every year for recreational purposes.

“It’s still a lot of money, even though it’s from the Power Authority,” Councilman Robert Clark said. He asked if the town residents could vote on the project.

Town Attorney Michael Risman said the state does not allow referendums for advisory purposes, though he said he would review town and state statutes.

“You’re elected officials. You’re expected to make decisions,” he said.