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Amherst lawmakers agreed Monday to borrow $648,000 to convert the Clearfield Recreation Center into a gymnasium.

At a special meeting, Town Board members voted 7 to 0 to renovate the 25-year-old ice rink at 730 Hopkins Road into a gymnasium for basketball, volleyball and other sports.

Town officials say they plan to borrow the money at a 5 percent interest rate and pay off the debt in 15 years.

Interest costs would total $288,447, said Maureen P. Cilano, the town's comptroller, pushing the total cost of renovating Clearfield to $936,447.

For a homeowner whose property is assessed at $120,000, the project will cost $1.91 a year in taxes, Ms. Cilano said.

The town decided against adding air conditioning and bleachers at the center.

Town officials deleted a $103,000 sprinkler system and $17,000 in exit doors from renovation plans when they discovered at the last minute that the town did not have to meet tighter building code regulations, after all.

But officials learned they will have to build a wall and include some other fire safety upgrades at a cost of $79,000, said Town Engineer Paul M. Bowers.

Bowers said the interior work will include new doors, lights, flooring and heating and ventilation work.

The construction cost of the project comes in at $448,000 more than previously estimated.

"I'm concerned about this, not just because of the final cost," said Councilman James P. Hayes. "I'm concerned about the way a $200,000 project grew to more than $600,000."

Bowers previously told the board that his office was not consulted when the project's cost estimate was calculated by recreation officials.

Amherst Recreation Director Jeffrey Bloom has said the money for design work comes from the proceeds of the bond sale, so his department must pursue the project and estimate the costs before thorough design work even starts.

"If that's the usual course of business, that has to change," Hayes said.

Town Supervisor Susan J. Grelick said Bowers now sits on the town's capital improvement program committee, so his office consults on the cost estimates for capital projects.

"We cannot allow a department head to come up with a figure off the top of his head and begin to mobilize support in the community and on the Town Board without having done the nuts and bolts work," Hayes said.

Councilman Michael G. McGuire, who sought Town Board approval for the project, said he agreed with Hayes' assessment. "We have to to get on with this thing," he added.

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