In the dozen years since the Orchard Park Recreation Department hired its first full-time director, the success of swim lessons and summer camp has led to waiting lists, revenue and a proposal to build a new community center, aquatic center and field house.
“The pressure is greater than ever,” said Ed Leak, recreation director. “Because there’s a waiting list, we know there’s a future and potential growth because of the demand.”
The Town Board voted Wednesday night to create a committee to research construction and funding of a Community Activities Center on the collection of park fields on California Road known as “Brush Mountain.”
In a work session beforehand, Leak compared Orchard Park recreation’s popularity with findings from a survey of 57 other similar municipal members of the National Recreation and Park Association.
With $524,645 in operation costs last year, Orchard Park’s were among the lowest. Averages from the other departments nationwide ranged from $596,000 to $5.3 million in program spending.
Participation was also relatively high. While the surveyed departments’ tally of annual visits ranged from 4,000 to 165,000, Orchard Park logged 33,589 people who spent about $16 each on its programs, classes and events last year.
Leak, who started as the department’s first full-time director in 2002, expanded to the current, year-round array of 708 programs and classes with 10 free special events, like the Halloween parade, and 175 part-time staffers.
His proposal includes a 17,000-square-foot activity center with room to absorb his offices at Yates Park and the senior center now operating from cramped quarters in a former house on Linwood Avenue.
Swimming programs now at the middle school pool would be added to more at a 14,000-square-foot “aquatic center” with a six-lane pool.
“We would need both to accommodate growth,” Leak said. “We believe they would complement one another.” A 36,000-square-foot field house would have bleachers, a practice field and a quarter-mile track.
To help make the case for the project, Leak pointed out that last year, for the first time, department revenues exceeded expenses.
In 2001, the year before he got there, the Recreation Department had a $240,000 budget and took in $30,000 in revenue. Last year, expenses were $520,000, and revenues were $535,000.
Altering summer camp hours so that parents could, without penalty, drop off children early and pick them up late led to a spike in enrollment at camp that costs about $165 a week and includes outings like field trips to Bisons baseball games.
“We’re still working with the same facilities we had 11 years ago … We need to look at expanding,” Leak said. “We think we’ve got a bright future.”