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Wendt, Bennett beaches still looking for lifeguards as season draws near

Wendt and Bennett beaches are just about ready to open for swimming this summer -- if they can find enough lifeguards.

The two parks have two Erie County parks workers dedicated to their upkeep this summer, and Wendt is getting a slight parking lot and driveway makeover before the Fourth of July holiday.

"We're starting to get everything done," said Parks Commissioner Angelo Sedita. "We're doing a lot of things we've been putting off because we haven't had the money."

Consequently, lawns are cut, bathrooms are open, and lifeguards are scheduled to be on duty July 4 and then every weekend through Labor Day.

The one problem thus far is that Erie County hasn't been able to find enough properly certified lifeguards. There are 11 openings; five had been filled as of Thursday.

Sedita said he has been told by Evans and Hamburg officials that they're having difficulty finding lifeguards. There's enough need, he said, that if applicants have their Red Cross certification, his department is willing to set up testing so they can get the waterfront certification necessary for guarding swimmers on the lake.

Meanwhile, the bigger question of what to do with the parks -- particularly the Wendt Mansion -- still needs to be answered.

"There are a lot of opportunities at that site, if we can get some restoration done to the building," said County Legislator Robert Reynolds.

He said he and Sedita have been speaking with representatives from Erie Community College, Erie 2/Chautauqua BOCES, and county and labor groups about the possibility of turning the mansion into a culinary school.

Other possibilities could include things like a conference center, Reynolds said, but nothing has been solidified.

A proposal to turn the mansion and some other parts of the park over to Precision Park Services, a private company, was made last year. That plan fell apart under criticism and scrutiny from both the public and elected officials.

The mansion still needs repairs. It was already in disrepair before it was was vandalized in March. Thieves broke in, stole copper piping and left water flowing out a back door.

The building was guarded by a security system linked to Evans town police, but it apparently didn't work to alert authorities.

The building's security system is functioning now, Sedita said.

Reynolds said he wants to make progress on development at Wendt before turning more attention to Bennett Beach, which is just down Lake Shore Road.

"Our short-term goal was to get the parks cleaned up and get some lifeguards to the beach," Reynolds said. "Next is to attack the mansion and get a group of people together to put the mansion to use for the whole community."

e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com

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