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Orchard Park offers $20 million, $30 million options for community center

A decade-old idea to bring the Recreation Department and senior center into one big new Community Activities Center in Orchard Park debuted to a standing-room-only crowd last week as architects revealed their renderings and two options.

The basic version has a price tag of $20 million. A $30 million option would add extras like a pool, an outdoor splash pad and a field house.

As presented by Wendel architects, the new center has a modern look with stone pillars and a peaked roof overhang leading to a panel of yawning plate glass windows. The project, designed to be built in phases, reflects the architects’ five months of research and discussion about town needs.

The Town Board wants to decide whether to go forward in two steps. Residents will be polled online next month to see if the project should continue and which of the two versions is preferred.

The more-favored option – either the $20 million or the $30 million – then will be put to a public vote in the fall. If approved, construction at the town’s Brush Mountain Park could begin in 2018.

“As one resident and one citizen, I am in favor of it,” said Michael Sherry, a board member and committee liaison.

Yet, he said, he wants clear public support before the board proceeds with the project.

“My job is to do the will of the people,” he said.

The building would solve two problems for the town. It would create more space for the Recreation Department, which has waiting lists for programs it doesn’t have room to expand.

“The community has become much more recreation-oriented,” Sherry said.

The community center could accommodate 2,000 people and would replace a popular but crowded senior center now operating in a converted house.

The two fastest-growing groups in Orchard Park are 85 and over and 65 and over, according to Sherry’s census research. By 2035, half the people in town are expected to be either 65 and over or 18 and under.

The project, planned in phases, could take up 2.5 acres for buildings and another 7.5 acres with parking lots in the 25-acre park with pine trees, trails, baseball diamonds and football fields on California Road. The town bought the former farmland about 20 years ago and at first used it to dump brush and the huge piles, now hills covered with grass, led to it being named “Brush Mountain.”

Sherry estimated that 360 people were in the audience at the presentation Wednesday evening.

“Not one person had a negative comment,” he said.

Yet, he said, the price was higher than he had hoped.

“A collective breath was taken,” said Sherry, offering a bulleted fact sheet. “I was part of that breath ... It’s a lot of money.”

While the town will seek other funding sources – like grants and fundraising in the community – the project would hit residents in the pocketbook. The cost to the owner of a home assessed at $263,000 would $4.56 a month for every $10 million spent.

The Town Board next month will poll residents about whether to go forward and which of the two options is preferred. The favored alternative will be put to a public vote in the fall.

Here is a look at the two proposals:

$20 million version:

• Community center with classrooms, fitness area, teen room, dance room, lockers, offices.

• Senior center with billiards room, classrooms, multipurpose area dividable into three spaces, art room, health screening room, catering kitchen.

• Two gymnasiums.

For an extra $10 million:

• All of the above, plus:

• Indoor poor.

• Outdoor splash pad, wet play area with fountains for families.

• Field house with recreational walking and running track and center area for team practice.