The $6.1 million plan, which will be up for a vote by district residents on Tuesday, Sept. 21, can be brought about at no cost to taxpayers, due to the district's funding from the New York Power Authority relicensing agreement for the Niagara Power Project along with state aid.
The plan is the Greenway part of a capital project, totaling $11,085,000. The other part of the project, totaling $4,991,000, will include safety and security updates to school facilities. Greenway funds are slated for recreational, environmentally healthy projects to improve Niagara-Wheatfield's environment for both students and the community.
"The Greenway money is meant to be used for ecological integrity, public well-being, accessibility and connectivity," said N-W's School Business Executive Kerin Dumphrey. "Our mission, as part of the Greenway Plan, is to ensure safe and environmentally healthy interaction of water, air, soil, sunlight, plants and wildlife for our students and our community."
Plans for N-W's access to Cayuga Creek include a long-term generational process that is designed to guide Niagara County in the development of a "green infrastructure" plan, said Dumphrey.
"One of the exciting parts of this plan is the Cayuga Creek Nature Trail, which will offer members of the community use of a bike and walking path, and a greenway that is designed to provide and increase physical and visual access to and from the water, fields and related recreational facilities for a full range of users, including youth, senior citizens and people with special needs. Another is the confidence course, a series of challenging physical tests that will be located behind the high school/middle school, made of timber, ropes and other materials that will challenge students physically, beginning with low-risk activities and progressing to more difficult challenges," he said.
Niagara-Wheatfield's plan includes the bike and walking path, a lighted parking lot, playground and confidence course, creek access for students that will provide a natural buffer system to enhance the quality of life through conservation and preservation, an outdoor classroom, added plant species, and security measures for the site, including cameras. In addition, school facilities that are used by public groups and residents as well as students, like bleachers, the concession stands and restrooms, locker rooms and the outdoor track, are all slated for planned improvements as part of the Greenway funding.
The Greenway's focus is on maintaining and improving the health, vitality and integrity of natural resources and wildlife habitats. Emphasis is placed on restoring and retaining ecologically significant areas and natural landscapes, both in and around the water and the trail.
"There is a whole list of benefits to this plan, including providing educational, recreational and transportation opportunities, outstanding health and fitness opportunities, it will increase land value for adjacent land as well as tax benefits, it will help protect air and water quality through natural filtration, will help meet federal permit requirements for storm water, erosion and other things. It's good for our economic development and enhances tourism and local business, provides storm water storage and reduces flooding and flood damage, provides wildlife corridors and enhances species diversity and helps mitigate heat, noise, and light pollution. It's an endless list of benefits, and it's a necessary lesson for students and those who will lead this planet in the future," said Dumphrey.
Many in the district consider the Greenway Plan to be a bargain Niagara-Wheatfield cannot afford to pass up, especially in these tight economic times for schools.
"How can we not do it?" asks Krista Ziegler, the mother of two Niagara-Wheatfield students and an active youth leader in the N-W Amateur Athletics program. "There has been a need for updates in these athletic facilities for some time, and our kids need a good facility, not only for now, but for their future. It will serve our students and our community well, including others who come into our district."
Superintendent of Schools Carl Militello urges members of the community to vote on Sept. 21, from noon to 8 p.m. in the Adult Learning Center at the high school, because so much of the project directly impacts the Niagara-Wheatfield community.
"Niagara-Wheatfield's schools belong to this community, and as good as a school district is, that's how good a community is. So it is very important that we work together to provide the best for our students, and to involve them within our community at every level. This is a direct opportunity for all of us to work together for the good of our young people, our senior citizens and everyone in between, and to protect and nurture our environment. Let's do it!" he said.