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Youth Center board hires lawyers in effort to stay open

The Clarence Youth Center board plans to continue providing services in the town, despite the fact that the Clarence Town Board has closed the facility from which it operated. The board has also hired lawyers to assist it in communicating with the Town Board.

Kevin Curry, a member of the Youth Center board, said the board is working with various community members to come up with some alternatives in the face of the closure of the Youth Center building on Sheridan Drive near Main Street on Jan. 1.

"We want to have a youth center that will be open a minimum of five days a week. That's been the position of the Youth Center board throughout," Curry said.

"We have engaged Hodgson Russ [law firm] to represent our interests and those of the children who use that center, as well," Curry added.

The Youth Center board's lawyers have been attempting to meet with the Town Board about its closing of the center but have been rebuffed, according to attorney Daniel Spitzer.

Clarence Supervisor Kathleen E. Hallock today denied that.

"We're waiting to hear from Dan Spitzer," she said.

Hallock said the Town Board is seeking minutes from a Youth Center board meeting at which the Youth Center board changed its bylaws to allow it to select its own members. The Town Board traditionally has appointed members to the Youth Center board and did so on Jan. 1.

After expressing concerns that the Youth Center was underused and too expensive to run, the Town Board in mid-November agreed that, come Jan. 1, it would take over operation of the center from the nonprofit group that had been running it. At that time, it was planned that the center would remain open only on Friday and Saturday evenings instead of six days a week.

By the end of last December, town officials had decided to close the center.

"We can't see why the Town Board would be so cold-hearted to close the Youth Center that's been so successful for the better part of four decades," said Curry.

But Councilman Joseph Weiss began questioning the center's operation when, as the Town Board's liaison to the Youth Board, he paid an impromptu visit to the facility two years ago.

"I just showed up unannounced, and I saw just three youths watching TV and two adults who were paid to watch them. One of the adults was doing a lesson plan and one was playing a video game. They weren't even in the same room with the youths," Weiss said.

He further questioned the payment of nearly $100,000 a year to operate a facility that didn't offer youth any structured activities and charged that "a couple of the Youth Board members used [the Youth Center] as their own private baby-sitting service."

"The town is going ahead with forming its own youth organization and our own Youth Board under the direction of Dawn Kinney," Weiss added.

Kinney was hired by the Town Board in May to replace the former part-time Youth Center director, who had been hired by the Youth Center board. Weiss said Kinney was placed in charge of finding out what youth services the community needs, as well as determining how to draw more youngsters to the Youth Center in advance of the town forming its own youth program.

But Curry questioned the decision to replace the director the Youth Center board had hired for $13,520 a year for a civil service employee earning $36,000 plus benefits.

"That's more than half of our overall budget," said Curry.

In addition, he said, the Youth Center board's equipment remains locked inside the facility, a three-decades-old former state garage barn. They include computers, games, books, television sets and other kitchen equipment.

Town officials say the building is in poor condition and that they are trying to determine whether it can be adequately repaired or whether it would be cost-effective to build a new one. A study by Kasprzak & Klotzbach Architects, of Clarence, estimated it would cost $316,800 to renovate the building.


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