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PLANS FOR NEW SOUTHTOWNS YMCA ADVANCE

Plans for the new YMCA Family Center in the Southtowns are nearing completion, with an opening projected for late 2002.

Last spring, the YMCA purchased the Ismailia Shrine Oasis building and its 18-acre site on Southwestern Boulevard in West Seneca for $650,000. Since then, YMCA officials have been working on plans, which involve razing the Oasis and constructing a new building.

The Shriners are using the proceeds from the sale to build a 14,000-square-foot headquarters on three acres adjacent to the 40-year-old, 32,000-square-foot Oasis, and each of the 2,600 Shriners will receive a membership to a YMCA branch near them.

Plans for the new $6 million YMCA call for a two-story, 60,000-square-foot building that features two gymnasiums, an eight-lane pool, four locker rooms and a separate family locker room, a family room, indoor running track, weight rooms, offices, aerobics rooms, child care areas and three multipurpose rooms for meetings and training.

With this new facility, the current Eggert Road YMCA in Orchard Park would close and the property be placed back on the tax rolls.

"Our original plan was to take the existing building and renovate it and add on, but our architects studied the site and said if we kept the existing building, we would have ended up with significantly less facility for the same amount of money it would take to build the 60,000-square-foot building," said John D. Murray, president of the Greater Buffalo YMCA.

"It is cheaper for us to tear the existing structure down. It was built in the 1960s, and all the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing are all original. We need to bring it all up to code. There are no sprinklers, and there is no wiring for any electronics we would need," he said.

Murray said if the YMCA had decided to keep the old building, three elevators would have had to be installed to make it accessible to disabled people.

"By designing new, we will only need one," he said. "This alone saves thousands of dollars. The new building will be fully accessible. The old one would still have some areas that would not be."

A precise date for groundbreaking has not been set, but plans are expected to be formalized by spring. Murray said the property needs to be rezoned and the project approved by the town.

"Then we have to raise the money," he said. "We are researching our ability to raise the money for this project. Our expectation is to get through the approval process in the next 30 to 90 days and decide on a fund-raising goal."

The Shriners are still occupying the Oasis building until their new facility is completed. Murray said the YMCA will not take possession of the property until the Shrine building is up and they are moved in.

"We will be doing some joint programming (with the Shriners). Every week, they drive children to Erie, Pa., to do physical therapy in a pool. Since we will have the pool here, they can bring a physical therapist in to do the same therapy," said Murray.

The West Seneca Shrine pays about $85,000 a year to transport 1,750 local children to Shriners hospitals, mostly in Erie and Cincinnati. Shriners operate 22 burn and orthopedic hospitals for children in the United States and Mexico, and never charge the patient for any services.

"We both win in this situation," Murray said.

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