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Tonawanda may team up with Ken-Ton district on proposed ice arena

The Buffalo Sabres got a boost from adding star-in-waiting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin to their team.

Now, the Town of Tonawanda hopes to see a similar payoff by bringing in a new teammate for its own rebuilding project.

A proposed upgrade of the Brighton ice arena has stalled as officials weigh whether its value to residents is worth $8 million.

The town may have a solution: A partnership with the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District that could let state aid cover a portion of the cost.

The plans still face determined opposition from a group of residents who don't want the expanded arena to replace the town's Brighton pool, and from people who say road and sewer repairs are a higher priority. It's not certain the project would qualify for state aid.

But officials from the town and the district say a partnership is worth exploring.

"We've got hurdles we have to overcome, obviously," Supervisor Joseph Emminger said. "But I think both the School District and the Town Board are very interested in seeing if we can pull this off."

Advocates of youth hockey have sought improved facilities for years, arguing the town's Brighton and Lincoln ice arenas are 60 years old and outdated.

The most recent proposal would see the town build a larger Brighton ice arena with improved amenities. That would take the place of Brighton pool, off Brompton Road, although the town may build a splash pad there.

The town would later decide what to do with the existing Brighton arena and with its Lincoln ice arena, with one proposal calling for turning Lincoln into a fieldhouse. The project may require building additional parking at Brighton, which would increase the cost.

The Town Board in March rejected spendingĀ $400,000 to hire an architectural firm to design the project.

Supporters such as Councilman Daniel Crangle want the Town Board to vote on the project, to allow it to move forward as soon as possible. Emminger, however, wants a townwide vote on the plans, something that wouldn't happen until November 2019.

Tonawanda weighs ice arena upgrade as state OKs $8 million town project

The supervisor said a new ice arena would be an enhanced service for Tonawanda residents. But Emminger noted the town still is getting over the closing of its largest taxpayer, NRG Energy's Huntley Power Plant, in 2016.

Emminger said this week that projections show the new ice arena would make an operating profit of $200,000 per year. But, he said, if the town pays for the project on its own it would lose $250,000 annually when taking into account annual debt service.

That's why the town is interested in teaming up with the school district, a shared-services arrangement encouraged by the state and Erie County.

"That makes it financially feasible," Emminger said.

District and town officials started talking about partnerships in broad terms in July, before focusing on the ice rink beginning in August, said Jill O'Malley, the School Board president.

O'Malley said district leaders were intrigued by the idea but need more details.

"It's a very difficult process when you're trying to make decisions and you have very little information," she said.

She said the district would need to add instructional space of some kind in the new ice arena.

A new rink could allow the district to add a sled hockey program and more winter sports programming for special education students, O'Malley said. And the district could add ice skating to its physical education curriculum, she said.

The key, of course, is whether the project is eligible for state aid, O'Malley said.

Traditionally, school buildings have aid ratios as high as 79 percent, she said, and even non-instructional buildings are reimbursed atĀ 50 percent.

"I think it comes down to dollars," O'Malley said. "I'm telling you, if we don't get state aid for it, or it's very limited state aid, I would imagine that the board members would not be in favor of that."

The district and town are hosting a community forum on the project at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Kenmore West High School auditorium, 33 Highland Parkway.


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