By Karen Carr Keefe
Two Grand Island organizations are expected to get an influx of federal funds to help achieve their mission in the community.
The Miracle League of Western New York and the DeGlopper Memorial Expansion Committee are on the list for approval of funding by the Erie County Legislature.
Also, East River Road on Grand Island is in the county’s plans for funding needed repairs.
The Miracle League is line for $1.1 million; the DeGlopper Memorial, $25,000; and East River Road upgrades, $600,000 – all if county lawmakers say yes.
The funding, the first part of a $123 million package, is being allocated locally by the county from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, as well as from state aid the county wasn’t anticipating.
The announcement of the Grand Island reinvestment funding comes from Erie County Legislator Kevin Hardwick, who initiated the requests. He said he has long been a supporter of the Miracle League.
“If approved, that money can do a lot of good for an organization that really deserves our help and our support,” he said. “I think it would be good for Grand Island. I think it would be good for the community at large and it would say a lot about us as a community.”
The Miracle League, launched 10 years ago, allows people with disabilities to play baseball using an adaptive diamond in Veterans Park.
“The Miracle League has always been near and dear to my heart, between the challenges that the children and the families go through, as well as baseball being my favorite sport, I’ve always been a big fan and a contributor to the Miracle League,” Hardwick said.
Hardwick said he talked to Miracle League Executive Director Scott McManigle about a month ago, asking if the organization needed anything: “This was right after a round of vandalism at the park, and he talked about needs for improved security; he talked about the need for a new field, because the turf is showing its age.”
Hardwick said McManigle also expressed interest in putting a splash pad for the public at the ballpark, since there is no public pool on Grand Island.
“We’ll never stop vandalism, but we can try to make it a little bit tougher on people,” McManigle said. “What I’d like to do is surround our field with a higher fence of netting that would slow them down at least climbing the fence to get onto the field,”
McManigle also explained the need for surface repair.
“Our surface has got a 10-year, 15-year shelf life, and it’s a big cost,” he said. “It’s probably our largest expense in running the organization. You’re looking at about $200,000 to fix it every 10 years. So, every time we have players from the Grand Island Little League across the street come on our field with spikes – and kids from the local neighborhood do that – what they don’t understand is that 10 years now goes down to nine, and the next time they go on, it goes down to eight. It’s unfortunate. It risks the stoppage of play for our players.”
He said the idea of building a splash pad would be a plus for Miracle League players as well as the general public.
“We have a great relationship with the Town of Grand Island, and I know that there’s no public pool or splash pad on the Island,” McManigle said. “What I’d like to do is build something for our players, but the original idea was to find a way that we could do something inclusive like our playground. Our playground is for the community but it’s adaptive for our players.”
“I’d like to try to find a way for the splash pad to be the same thing,” he said. “Kind of our gift from the Miracle League back to the community and back to Grand Island and make it something adaptive for the community and our players.”
McManigle is looking forward to the American Rescue Plan funds making a difference for Grand Island as a whole: “That money will help tremendously for not just the Miracle League but the community.”
He said this Sunday is Law Enforcement Day at the Miracle League ballpark, starting at 2 p.m. with the National Anthem performed by some popular Western New York singers and then proceeding right to the game.
“There will be different law enforcement agencies from all over Western New York attending. It’s a rather large day – it’s an annual event,” McManigle said.
The Grand Island funding requests are part of the RENEW plan Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz presented to the legislature on Monday. RENEW stands for “Reinvest in Erie’s Neighborhoods and Employ our Workforce.” The plan is designed to help the county make a comeback from COVID-19 by investing the federal funds into state and local governments who lost revenue and made cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawmaker said the plan probably wouldn’t be acted on by the full legislature until July 8.
Hardwick attended the June 5 dedication ceremony and unveiling of the life-sized statue of Pfc. Charles N. DeGlopper, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The legislator learned the fund had come up $100,000 short in the drive to erect the statue as well as plaques to commemorate Island soldiers who were killed in action.
“I asked the county executive to put in $25,000 towards that, and he did, so that’s there,” Hardwick said.
“Again, this is by no means a done deal. It still has to pass the legislature. But I believe the votes are there and I believe that, within a few weeks, these funds will be available for both the Miracle League and the DeGlopper Committee,” he said.
Hardwick said he also asked that additional money, $600,000, be put in for repairs of East River Road: “I think anybody on the Island knows that is the one county road that really needs some work.”
He said bicyclists and walkers also use the road on a daily basis. The requested funds are in addition to an earlier sum that was first allocated to Baseline Road, but then diverted to East River Road because of a major town project planned for Baseline.
Hardwick said he will push for passage of the RENEW plan and its three Grand Island projects.
“We have an opportunity here to really make a difference in the lives of the residents of Erie County,” Hardwick said.