The Seneca-Babcock neighborhood is poised to get a new and much larger community center on the site of a former Buffalo public school, through a volunteer effort by a group of notable local firms led by Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.
The developer-led group is seeking Buffalo Planning Board approval next Tuesday to build a new Seneca-Babcock Community Center on the site of the former School 26 at 82 Harrison St.
The former K-8 school, about five blocks from the current community center at 1168 Seneca St., was closed in 1980 and has been largely vacant except for use as a Pupil Service Center. The city still owns it, and plans to spend more than $600,000 on an environmental cleanup, demolition of the two-story tan brick building, and site preparation before selling the property to the community association, said Amber M. Holycross, a project manager at Ciminelli.
Plans call for a new 26,000-square-foot, single-story facility to provide more-extensive services for a client base that ranges from young teenagers to senior citizens. The building will feature a full kitchen for cooking classes, a full-size gymnasium, a “black box” theater to show movies, a recording studio, a fitness center, a computer lab and classrooms for GED classes, Holycross said. There will also be a medical clinic, operated in partnership with Erie County Medical Center.
That’s a big upgrade from the current site. Holycross said officials looked at rehabilitating or expanding the existing building, “but that was not really an option.”
“Their existing center is just really run-down, and it’s not serving the purpose,” Holycross said. “They really want a full gymnasium. That’s extremely important, and the No. 1 goal of this new center.”
The new site is also adjacent to a small park with a basketball court and softball field, both of which will be rehabilitated.
“The court is pretty degraded right now, and not usable for basketball,” Holycross said. “So we want to make sure the kids have the opportunity to play outside. It’s just a great amenity for the community, and this new community center with all these great elements is going to help keep those kids in a safe place where they can thrive and grow.”
The $3 million project is being driven by Dr. Daniel Alexander, an orthopedic surgeon in Geneva, who grew up in the Seneca-Babcock neighborhood and has remained an active member of the community association ever since. Alexander is a friend of Paul F. Ciminelli, the development firm’s CEO, and has also been working with community center director Brian N. Pilarski.
The project is mainly funded through Alexander’s foundation and other grants. Officials hope to start construction next spring.
Besides Ciminelli, other participants working on the effort for the last year for free or reduced rates include Kideney Architects, C&S Engineers, Siracuse Engineers, Kavinoky Cook LLP, Frey Electric, J.W. Danforth & Co. and Davis-Ulmer Sprinkler Co.
“It’s a wonderful project. We’re really excited to be part of it,” Holycross said. “It’s one of those feel-good stories. I know it’s going to make a huge difference for these kids.”