by Joshua Maloni
In stark contrast to the previous two Village of Lewiston Board meetings, where trustees were blasted for stumping for a new recreation center, residents Monday overwhelmingly voiced their support for a new indoor sports complex.
"It is needed for the kids," said Riverside Motel owner Bruce Blakelock.
His son, eighth-grader Robert Blakelock, said, "There's not a whole lot of areas in Lewiston to go and play sports."
"If we don't accept this for our children ... we're throwing something away," said Dennis Brochey of Brochey's Automotive.
"There are a lot of people in the village that are very supportive of (a new recreation center)," Peter Nagy said. "It's a shame that this project is kind of dead in the water."
Trustees opted to hold the public forum Monday despite losing the support of Gary Hall. In November 2011, the Waste Technology Services president and CEO offered to finance a multimillion-dollar recreation center, but backed out Thursday due to what board members called a desire to keep the peace. Hall, they said, was taken aback by the negative comments he received at board meetings in December and January, when North Fourth Street-area residents balked at the idea of building a 28,000-square-foot complex in their backyard.
Two of those residents, Kathleen Harold and former Mayor Richard Soluri, explained their opposition to erecting the structure behind the Red Brick Municipal building.
"We saw the (rec center) pictures in the Sentinel, and we kind of got shook up," Harold said at the forum. She said neither Hall nor the board had a definite business plan, and she chided those who said Marilyn Toohey Park was underutilized.
"There is constant use," she said of the green space, which would've been lessened with a new rec center.
"This would detract from our neighborhood - it would no longer be a neighborhood," Soluri said. He also suggested property values would drop if the rec center was built in Toohey Park.
"I like the idea of a recreation center - if we can afford it," he said. "(But) the ideal site is really at the plateau."
Hall commissioned architect David Giusiana of Giusiana Architects & Engineer to come up with a proposal to build the rec center at the plateau. Giusiana presented that plan Monday, showing a 36,000-square-foot rec center in between the dog park and the habitat (on the way to Artpark), and detailing its amenities (including tennis, racquetball and squash courts; a video golf simulator; a climbing area; a juice bar; and two full locker rooms).
Mayor Terry Collesano said he received "daily calls, letters and emails in support" of the Red Brick location. Still, "I personally favor the plateau site," he said.
Collesano told the audience of about 200 that "this will probably be the final time we talk about (a new recreation center)."
Without Hall's support, the village is currently unable to finance a new indoor sports complex.
"We are saddened that the community lost a great opportunity for a recreation center," Collesano said. He added, "Mr. Hall, our door is always open if you ever wish to reconsider."
Residents at the forum thanked Hall for his offer to finance the rec center. Some went so far as to scold those who took issue with Hall's proposal - especially those who wrote negative letters to the editor in the Sentinel.
"I can't believe what's happened," Bruce Blakelock said. "It doesn't matter what idea it is, people don't want it."
"Where are we going to get $2 million to build something like this?" Brochey asked.
Resident Mary Smith said, "I'm tired of people complaining. ... Whether it's a sandwich board in front of a business or a festival - whatever it is - there's a problem with everything in this village."
She described children as more in need of recreation than ever, and said, "I really hope that Mr. Hall will reconsider."
Planning Board member Dave Maslen said Hall "was scared off because he thought he was offending all you people. Well, he's not offending all you people, because a lot of you people here tonight are for (a new recreation center)."
Without a major benefactor, Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland said the village could opt to fundraise. He said his preliminary research revealed membership fees could offset maintenance and staff costs, while solar panels could eliminate almost all of the electrical costs.
Sutherland proposed yearly membership fees of $125 for a family and $60 per person ($35 for students and $20 for seniors). Coupled with a $20-per-hour court usage fee, he reasoned the rec center, at just 30 percent usage, could net $102,000 from Sept. 1 through May 31.
When school field trips, tournaments, walk-on days and non-resident rates are added into the equation, "It made it seem to us that it was a doable thing," Sutherland said.
Harold and Maslen suggested residents vote the project up or down in a referendum. Trustees will consider adding that to the June election ballot.
In terms of location, Collesano said the Red Brick location "is a dead issue." He and Trustee Ernie Krell said Kiwanis Park couldn't be used, either. The Kiwanis Club of Lewiston deeded the 14-acre park to the Town of Lewiston with the stipulation it remain a park.
Those in attendance at Monday's public forum were asked to fill out a ballot indicating where they live, their age, whether or not they favor a rec center, and what they'd like to see inside a sports complex. The unofficial vote indicated 150 people are for a new rec center, while six are opposed.