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Amherst skate park honoring Alix Rice will open by summer

Skateboarders, inline skaters and BMX bike riders by late summer should get to flip and grind and roll around Amherst's first skate park.

The new skate park near the University at Buffalo North Campus will offer unlimited fun.

But it's also a place to keep alive the memory of Alix Rice, the teenager killed by a drunk driver in July 2011.

"It's just been a lot of work to ensure that Alix has been remembered. And it's been worthwhile work," said Jon Fulcher, president of the Alix Rice Peace Park Foundation. "And it'll be, for her family, hopefully, a good remembrance of a young girl taken too soon. Hopefully, for the young kids in the region, a good example of a young girl who really cared for the people in her community. And, hopefully, an inspiration for young kids to not drink and drive."

The group of volunteers that has spent nearly six years building support for the park said they plan to break ground this spring. The foundation last week picked up a permit from the town that will allow them to begin construction on the park, which will be built on town-owned land near the Northtown Center.

Members of the foundation plan to unveil their final design for the 10,000-square-foot skate park at a fundraiser March 26, although those plans are on file with the town.

Volunteers have raised most of the money they need for the cost of construction, estimated at as much as $375,000, although they are seeking some final in-kind company donations, Fulcher said.

The start of construction is a milestone in a lengthy process to bring to fruition a skate park that honors Rice.

Tammy Zekas holds up a skate board with an image of her daughter, Alexandria "Alix" Rice, on it. The board was raffled off at a fundraiser in their daughter's name at the Town Ballroom in Buffalo on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Alexandria "Alix" Rice, 18, was riding her longboard late at night on Heim Road on her way home from her job at a pizzeria when she was struck and killed by a car driven by Dr. James Corasanti.

At the end of a closely watched trial in 2012, Corasanti was acquitted by a jury of manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident and evidence tampering but convicted of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and served eight months in jail.

Corasanti and his insurance carrier agreed to a civil settlement with Rice's parents, Richard J. Rice and Tammy A. Schueler, that, when combined with the settlement they reached with the Transit Valley Country Club where Corasanti drank before he drove that night, was described in 2015 as one of the largest of its kind in the state.

At a news conference announcing the settlement with Corasanti, Schueler said she was glad the litigation was over because she now could concentrate on efforts to build a skate park in her daughter's honor. Schueler serves as treasurer of the park foundation.

Fulcher and many of the volunteers don't have direct ties to the Rice family but felt moved by the tragedy and wanted to do something to help preserve the teen's memory.

Members began talking to town officials back in 2011 about the possibility of building a concrete skate park for BMX bikers, skateboarders and inline skaters in Amherst. Such a park is part of the town's master parks and recreation plan, said Mary-Diana Pouli, executive director of Amherst's Youth and Recreation Department.

But the town wasn't in a position to build this on its own, Pouli said.

"It seemed like a good partnership," she said.

Initial stumbling blocks for the volunteers included raising enough money for construction costs, as well as ongoing maintenance; finding a suitable location for the park; and addressing town officials' concerns about liability in the case users suffer injuries.

Organizers started raising money for the park, through concerts, corporate tie-ins and other special events, in 2012. The town approved a site for the 10,000 square-foot park, in a parking lot at the Northtown Center ice rink complex near UB, in March 2014, and later approved a user agreement with the foundation.

The foundation anticipated beginning work on the park last spring, but Steve Federico, a board member and director of construction, said it took longer than anticipated for the planning process and to raise the last contributions toward the construction.

The foundation has received a mix of state funding, private financial contributions and in-kind donations of goods and services from companies.

Organizers are very close to pulling in the last donations needed to begin construction, though they are seeking additional contributions from suppliers of concrete and stone fill, said Federico, who lauded the "tremendous support" the foundation has received from the community.

Estimates for the cost of the park have risen over the years, and a recent figure of $350,000 could end up as high as $375,000, Fulcher said, although organizers won't know for sure until they put the work out to bid and those bids from construction firms come back.

Depending on how that goes, work could begin in April or May. Construction on the poured-in-place concrete park would take about eight to 10 weeks to complete.

"We want to have this open by July 4th," said Federico.

The park, which has a rectangular shape, is designed by Seattle-based Grindline Skateparks.

Fulcher said it's the first skate park in the region with a California-style design, with two skate-in bowls, one deeper than the other for more experienced skaters, but also with transition and other elements that appeal to inline skaters and BMX bikers.

"It's available for anyone to use," Fulcher said. "Hopefully it brings a lot of young kids to the Amherst area."

This is a rendering of the skate park honoring Alix Rice planned for town property near the Northtown Center in Amherst.

The element at the park known as a manual pad will take the shape of a peace sign to honor Rice.

"That's kind of her stamp on the park," Fulcher said.

The town will continue to own the land after the skate park is constructed, but the volunteer group, which is organized as a nonprofit, will maintain the park.

Because the park is being built on town land, any contractor the foundation hires must pay its workers the regional prevailing wage, Pouli said. That provision doesn't apply, of course, if the company is donating its services.

The volunteers will need to continue to hold fundraisers to help cover ongoing insurance and maintenance costs, Fulcher said. The next fundraiser will take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. March 26 at the Main-Transit Fire Department's banquet hall.

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