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January 20, 2011

Sports complex debated

Supporters and detractors fill Charles Upson cafeteria

LOCKPORT — Supporters are touting the benefits it could reap, while detractors warn about the future costs and the unknown in Albany. Meanwhile, the Lockport Board of Education wants more information and discussion.

Residents, parents, students and district personnel packed the cafeteria of Charles Upson Elementary for a discussion about the proposed sports complex at Lockport High School. Talk about the $6 million facility, a project which was killed in a 2008 vote, has since been resurrected by supporters as well as the district’s athletic department.

Just under 20 people spoke, mostly in favor of bringing the project back for another vote. More than 300 people packed the room, with many standing up in the back of the cafeteria, the 200 seats having all been filled.

Those who supported the complex, cited the benefits a facility like the complex could bring. Jim Shaw, a dentist and small business owner, said when there is new materials or technology available there are two things he asks about it: Is it affordable and will it benefit his patients and employees?

School districts run an even bigger business, Shaw said. Therefore Lockport should ask the same questions when dealing with the complex, will it benefit students and teachers?

“I think this one is a no-brainer,” Shaw said. “I think we have, maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity for a state of the art athletic facility. I believe the money is available and in place so there will be no burden on the taxpayer. If we don’t use it, it might go someplace else.”

Jim Slowey, a local broadcaster and president of the Lockport Soccer Club, said with the sports complex Lockport would be able to host athletic tournaments, as well as state sectional sports events. Revenue from those events could help pay for the facility’s upkeep.

“We’d bring in people from all over Western New York,” Slowey said. “We need to do more for the kids in the community, we need to do more for the younger families. I think this proposal is something that will do that.”

Mary Herbst said Lockport itself would benefit economically from the complex. Large crowds from major sporting events or Friday night football games would end visiting local businesses, especially restaurants.

“They will contribute to our local economy, they’ll visit our restaurants, our stores, our hotels,” Herbst said. “I do it when I visit other cities.”

But not all agreed. Financial uncertainty in Albany, as well as unknown items such as the cost of maintenance for the complex were raised as concerns. The state is facing an $11 billion deficit, and not that long ago Lockport closed two elementary schools and raised taxes by 7 percent, said Louise Smith. Other Lockport schools are in need of attention first, she said.

“Do we really believe we are out of recession?” Smith said. “What happens if the state continues to cut aid? This is a luxury not a necessity.”

Paul Black said he was against the complex as of right now, but needed to see evidence that things have changed from the 2008 vote. There is no guarantee the money will be there from the state.

“Where is the money coming from? We talk about this 93 percent as if it we have a pile of cash sitting on a table, and if we are just smart enough to grab it we’re going to be a wiser, better off community,” Black said. “Is there any cash on the table?”

If there is a vote, Dorothy Stockton said more information about the complex would be needed. For residents on Dorchester Road, the street that runs behind the high school and parallel with Lincoln Avenue, the district should seek input from them since their homes could be affected by the complex, Stockton said. Parking could also be an issue, she said.

“Everyone who votes should be given all of the information first,” Stockton said.

Athletic Director Patrick Burke said he has spoken to seven different athletic directors from districts that have had similar projects done. The consensus was the districts saw no change in expenses or actually saw some savings. The complex would feature an artificial turf field, something that would not need mowing or striping. Turf fields last a standard of 10 years, at which point the state would offer some aid with replacement, he said.

Director of Facilities Timothy Parker told board members it was unknown at this point what the lighting of the complex would cost. And although there would be more cleanup work following events at the complex, custodial staff may actually be reduced.

Board President John Linderman said while details would still have to be finalized with the district’s architect, Young Wright Architectural, the complex project would essentially be the same as it was proposed in 2008. Young Wright Architectural is also overseeing the $23.5 million project at the high school, the proposition that was approved in the 2008 referendum.

Superintendent of Finance Deborah Coder said 93 percent of the project’s cost would be covered by state building aid, a figure that is locked in until July 1. It would be permanent if the project was approved by the public.

“And there is no way the state can renege,” Coder said.

Still board members will still be looking for more information about the complex. Members plan to meet with Young Wright Architectural in the near future.

“I still need much more information,” Trustee Marietta Schrader said.

Linderman said board members would have to decide by the middle of March whether or not to bring the complex back for a vote. If the board did decide to do so the vote would be on the same ballot as the budget, which is May 17 for all school districts in the state.

And the board did appreciate the turnout. Linderman said personally he has received over 100 emails from residents, both for and against bringing the complex back for a vote.

“We’re very happy with it, there were a lot of good questions and we’ll have more discussion,” Linderman said. “There were questions we didn’t fully answer (in 2008) and we will have to get that information in order to move forward.”

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.

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