by Susan Mikula Campbell
The Town of Niagara will start off the Fourth of July weekend with a bang, plus something extra this Saturday.
The glow coming from Veterans Memorial Park on Lockport Road won't just be from the fireworks that will end the program, but also from Supervisor Steve Richards' excitement over digging in the first shovel for the town's new community center.
"I think this will be the premier recreation facility in Niagara County," Richards said this week of the park and the new construction. "People will be looking to live in our town to take advantage of this facility."
On July 2, the ground-breaking ceremony will start at 4 p.m. The program will include a look back at the history of the park by Paul Gromosiak and a description of plans for the future. A special tribute to veterans will be conducted by "Gen. Patton," also known as Gilbert Buckbee. There also will be two concerts. Opening act is the Lakeside Blues Band from 3 to 5 p.m., followed by the BBC band at 6:30 p.m. Fireworks should start about 9:30 p.m.
This third phase of park construction should cost about $6 million. About $2 million already has been spent for building existing facilities, including shelters, a youth and senior building, soccer fields and ball diamonds.
The funds have not come from town taxpayers.
"This park is totally funded by the New York Power Authority settlement," Richards said.
Richards is proud of negotiating the $52 million relicensing settlement for the town in 2005. By state law, at least a third of the money had to go for parks and recreation, he said.
"Our community choose not to spend all the money at one time," he said.
Richards noted that of the $20 million set aside for the park, about $12 million will still remain for future generations of the town that might be interested in adding things such as a swimming pool, ice skating rink or skateboard park.
"I wanted to leave money for future generations because as times change, maybe the needs of the town will change, too," he said, adding that with the 124 acres purchased in 1999, the park has "plenty of room."
In addition to the community center, the current phase of construction will include an improved entrance to the park and an outdoor amphitheater.
The entrance will have new retaining walls and an electronic sign that will display planned activities in the park.
The professionally designed amphitheater for outdoor summer concerts and other events will be able to provide lawn seating for up to 5,000 people.
The community center will have a gymnasium with a full stage at one end. Bleachers will pull out from the wall, providing seating for 300 people. The space could also be used for a sit-down event, providing tables and chairs seating 800 people, Richards said.
With the stage, Richards said, "Because of the inclement weather that's known to happen around here, we'll be able to accommodate our events inside."
Also, he pointed out, "We do a good job with sports. We wanted to do a better job with the arts."
The community center also will feature several meeting/classrooms, storage facilities, an exercise room, small library, ceramics room, kitchen, locker rooms with showers, and restrooms that can be accessed by people attending events at the nearby outdoor amphitheater.
Veterans Memorial Park already has won a national award for Best Designed Park; this will only make it better, Richards said. "The goal from day one with this park was to be sure that it was a world class facility. This is a park town residents can be proud of."
"It really is. That's a very significant community facility," said Daniel Baccari, head architect for the project from EI Team Inc. of Buffalo. "He's right to brag about it. Most communities don't have one (a community center) with this many services attached to it."
Baccari said the almost 33,000-square-foot community center also will include two porticos providing covered entry to the facility
Lead engineer for the project is Robert Lannon Jr., town engineer, from CRA Infrastructure and Engineering of Buffalo.
"It's one of the marquee projects in Western New York," said Lannon. "He (Richards) is very passionate about this. ... It's not often you're able to construct a facility of this size and scope from the ground up."