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8-YEAR-OLD MAKES PLEA FOR SUMMER PROGRAM

Eight-year-old David MacDonald was a little nervous speaking to the crowd gathered for a town summit in the Getzville Fire Company hall Wednesday night.

Most were gray-haired and had more experience complaining about problems in Amherst.

But that didn't stop David, who wore a button-down shirt and a clip-on tie, from asking the town to bring back the red box in Dana Heights Park.

The red box?

The boxes are part of a summer recreational program in Amherst parks. Painted a bright red, the boxes contain games and crafts for children that high school or college students would supervise. Five Red Box sites were closed two years ago -- including the one just a block from David's home.

After one person complained about road maintenance and another about traffic, David got up from his seat in the front row.

"Hi, my name is David MacDonald. I'm 8 years old," the boy read from a piece of paper. "Amherst does not have enough parks. . . . You took away the Red Box Program. Now, the kids don't come there anymore. Bring back the Red Box Program. . . . Here are the signatures of 200 people who agree."

David started his campaign because he misses walking to the park and playing kickball or football or doing a crafts project.

"If the red box was there, I would go there every day," David said in an interview. "They have another in Country Parkway, but my mom has to drive me up there, and it isn't the same."

The residents applauded his speech, but that does not mean David will get the park's red box back.

The town closed the five Red Box sites two years ago because the program was costing too much and not enough children attended some sites, said Amherst Recreation Director Jeffrey Bloom.

"That site was averaging less than 15 kids per day. . . . The Dana Heights site had very little trees, playground equipment or anything at that site. It's behind an apartment complex, and it was providing recreation just for that apartment complex," Bloom said. "We had to make some very hard decisions. We had to consolidate sites."

The Dana Heights site was merged with the Country Parkway site, where David goes now.

But losing the site at Dana Heights and other other locations may not be the worst part, Bloom said.

"The cost is so high for running these programs. I'd say $6,000 to $7,000 per site," Bloom said. "We're looking at possibly reducing the number of sites even more."

The town is looking into moving the sites to schools and charging modest fees for children to use them, he said.

"It's about affordability," Bloom said. "We just can't provide it at every single corner or open space area."

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