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In 1996, some Grand Island residents started pushing the idea of a community center.

Today, eight years and three proposals later, the facility is no closer to reality. Supporters say the need for an indoor recreational facility to accommodate a growing population increases each year, but financial problems make it a hard sell.

Linda Tufillaro, the town's recreation director, said that during winter and spring vacation periods the need is more pronounced because schools are closed and "the kids are idle," prompting some residents to travel off the island in search of recreational activities.

But with Erie County facing a budget crisis, some officials say the time is not right to worry about recreation options.

"How would we justify putting millions into a community center when we need to worry about police and libraries?" asked Supervisor Peter A. McMahon.

Members of the Grand Island Parks and Recreation Advisory Board view the county's fiscal woes as an excuse for the inaction by the Town Board. Paul Belter, chairman of the advisory board, said that board's members would like to establish a partnership between the town and a private concern to get things moving.

Members are looking for Town Board approval to seek out financing alternatives to reduce the cost. But Belter said he and his colleagues are growing more discouraged.

The current proposal calls for a $6 million single-story community center in Veterans Park, featuring a gymnasium that can be divided into three, an indoor multipurpose artificial turf area for sports such as soccer and golf, a track and meeting areas. The advisory board estimates that rental income from the facility could total $300,000 a year, with operation and maintenance expenses of about $270,000.

Projections show a resident owning a $100,000 house would pay about $100 a year for 20 years to cover bond payments.

The effort to construct a community center began in 1996. And in 1999, the first version of the community center -- a two-story building -- was narrowly defeated in a referendum by 39 votes. A second proposal was rejected by the Town Board in 2002.


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