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Council weighs temporary sites for youth programs

The city's fall and winter youth programs don't have a home yet, but two former schools that have been sold by the school district and city are options for a temporary site.

Jerry Whitehead, director of youth, recreation, parks and senior citizens, told the Common Council on Tuesday that he needs a space to use from September through March for indoor youth activities and recreation.

Current youth programs are being held outdoors at Payne Park.

The city once held year-round activities and classes in the former Col. Payne Community Center at 460 Wheatfield St., which was sold at a city auction in December to Michael Wachowicz for $101,000.

Wachowicz has said he plans to build condominiums with office space there, but told Whitehead that upcoming renovations to the roof and heating system wouldn't get in the way of classrooms and the gymnasium if the city chose to use the space through March.

Wachowicz would bring in heaters and the city would pay to heat the portion of the building it uses.

Ironically, the high cost of utilities at the building was one of the reasons the city decided to sell it last year, but Council members said it now appears to be the "safest bet."

The other top option for fall and winter activities is the former Lowry Middle School, which was sold by the school district for $700,000 earlier this year to Kevin Gersh, who plans to convert the building into a college-level school for special-needs students in conjunction with Daemen College.

Whitehead said the building is the best option as far as facilities, because it has a dividable gymnasium, a pool and up to four classrooms.

"It's an ideal location," Whitehead said. "It's a phenomenal site for community activities, both adult and youth."

At 30 hours per week, Gersh would charge the city $20,000 for a year's use of the building.

Alderwoman Nancy Donovan, 3rd Ward, said she is afraid of the legal issues surrounding Gersh's lawsuit against the North Tonawanda School District. He has accused the district of violating its contract by stripping the building of fixtures that should have been left, and the matter is in State Supreme Court.

The mayor's administrative assistant, Jeffrey Mi,s said he doesn't think the city's use of the pool and gym have anything to do with that litigation, especially since Gersh owns the property.

The Council talked about its desire to build a new community center, and Mis said Mayor Lawrence V. Soos is "on board with seriously looking to build new."

Council President Brett M. Sommer said he would like to investigate federal grants or other monies that could go toward a new building first, while Whitehead suggested a cheap alternative of a steel structure with basic office and classroom space.

No action was taken, but Sommer asked Whitehead to have a recommendation for a temporary site for the fall ready to be voted on by the Council at its July 24 workshop meeting.


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