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JURY STILL OUT ON PROPOSED FIELD-HOUSE PROJECT

Lancaster School Board members Monday night said they want to see equipment and maintenance-cost estimates before deciding whether the district should scrap plans for a small gymnasium and become the first in Western New York to build a large, multi-use field house.

School Board president Edward Carlsen said the district is close to announcing an outside source of funding for a field-house project, a deal that he said will be "a pretty exciting thing for Lancaster."

Figures provided by two consultants indicate a 31,500-square-foot field house and various building renovations would cost between $2.5 million and $2.8 million, while adding a 7,840-square-foot third gym to Lancaster High School, plus renovations, would cost about $3 million.

The idea of a getting a large revenue-producing field house for roughly the same money as a small gymnasium seemed appealing to an audience of about 15 people attending a board work session on the issue, although several voiced suspicions about hidden or future costs.

Board members and residents alike noted the gym would be ready to use upon completion, while the price for the field house essentially covers just the building and cement floor, and does not include $228,000 in site work.

Trustee Georgette Pelletterie said she wants to know what it will cost to equip the field house -- the playing surface, for example. Operation and maintenance costs at the Fredonia State College field house would be helpful, she said.

Also missing, Trustee William Janiga said, are personnel cost estimates for maintaining such a large facility. Where the current maintenance staff would handle the third gym, the field house may require hiring of two or three workers, he said.

"We have this grandiose idea (that is) missing a lot of costs. We need the total picture and, to me, the total picture is not here," Janiga said.

Trustee Leonard Vento also told consultants and administrators, "You're almost there, but you've got a little more homework to do.

"I believe in this field house if we can make it financially viable without asking the taxpayers for more money," Vento said.

Addressing those who would abandon the project now, Vento said: "Let's not kill the vision before we know all the facts."

Fred Hammer, a resident, said insurance costs are another unknown. He said he's worried that if the field house is built, the district's "approach then will be that we've got this facility, it's empty, and now we need this, and this, and this."

Another resident, Cheryl Schlegel, told the board, "Please, when you decide, look at it (the comparison between the gym and field house projects) apples to apples. This could affect us as taxpayers for years to come."

Carlsen said the cost estimates requested will be obtained as soon as possible.

According to consultant estimates, a new brick-and-mortar gym would cost about $120 per square foot to build, compared to $50 to $55 for a masonry and metal field-house structure. The gym would have no spectator seating.

The fundamental question, Superintendent Joseph L. Girardi said, is, "What are you getting for your buck in terms of a facility?"

The new gym and renovations, required by the state, were included in a $33 million bond issue approved two years ago, part of $6.2 million earmarked for construction at the high school.

"You originally sold us a Volkswagen; now it's more like a Cadillac -- without tires," Rick Zarbo, Republican candidate for the Lancaster Town Board, told school officials.

"This whole business is not education, it's fun and games," Lancaster Taxpayers Association president Jack Beilman said.

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