By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Councilwoman Beverly Kinney said from the very beginning she wanted the Grand Island Town Board to conduct a feasibility study on a proposal to build a new community center on the Island. She may get her wish at the next meeting of the Town Board.
Tuesday, the board debated the proposal for a new community center for an hour during a work session at Town Hall after Councilman Ray Billica moved to put out a request for proposal (RFP) on the project. Councilman Chris Aronica rescinded his second of the motion later in the meeting. Councilman Mike Madigan pushed to put the matter on the agenda of the next Town Board meeting rather than vote at the work session. The earliest opportunity to vote would be at the Monday, June 5, regular meeting at Town Hall.
Aronica warmed to the idea of conducting the feasibility study after he expressed his concerns about the project's possible costs.
Kinney claimed that her analysis of the RFP tabbed the center at $163 per square foot. At 71,000 square feet, she estimated the project would cost $11 million without "build-out, parking lot, or design."
"And a project of that magnitude I think deserves a feasibility study with the whole community involved," Kinney said.
Aronica said initial conversations regarding the cost of a community center included estimates of $5 million, but at $11 million he said he "wouldn't even be interested in moving forward."
"I wanted to get a number, and if you're saying that's the number and that's not even the Taj Mahal that we're talking about, then we're at $15 million."
Madigan said a center he looked at in Henrietta at one-third the size was over $10 million.
Billica flatly disputed Kinney's cost estimates, although he later said he would be willing to put a $10 million project before the community for their consideration.
The community center was a campaign promise of Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, who was elected in 2015.
Billica has supported a less costly alternative to the town constructing a building, by leasing and buying a building constructed to the town's specifications by a private developer. The a lease-and-buy option is one the town followed in building a new maintenance building on Bedell Road adjacent to Veterans Park before McMurray, Kinney and Madigan were elected.
Though McMurray and Kinney have been at odds with Billica, Aronica and Madigan on various issues over the past year, all five council members back the community center idea, with Madigan and Aronica expressing reservations and conditions on cost and community support.
Aronica said he would not support a center at $15 million. He pointed out the town is near the state's property tax cap, and adding a community center will accelerate the problems with the town budget.
"This will blow it right out of the water," Aronica said.
Aronica also said he had heard rumors that McMurray wants to put the community center at the Grand Island Plaza with a 30-year lease. Aronica refused to support building a center the town wouldn't own. McMurray denied that was his plan.
"Chris, I will say before every witness that is currently watching, my goal is to make sure that we don't screw it up, and I don't care where it goes, I don't care how it's built," McMurray said.
McMurray said Clark Patterson Lee, the firm hired to conduct the town's ongoing comprehensive master plan, has offered to do the feasibility study for free, as it overlaps with some of the master plan work. Councilmen were suspicious of the offer, saying in a roundabout way that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
At the end of the discussion, Aronica removed his second to Billica's motion after Madigan reiterated his desire to conduct the vote at the regular meeting, where members of the public can speak on the issue. Later, Aronica said he wanted "to take a hard look at the Golden Age Center" in a study of its needs.
"I am extremely relieved that you even say that because that's the question we need to ask. We need to look at all this stuff," McMurray said to Aronica.
The next regular meeting of the Grand Island Town Board will be at 8 p.m. Monday, June 5, in Grand Island Town Hall, 2255 Baseline Road.