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Buffalo's plan for indoor field house awaits the public's imagination

A proposal for Buffalo's first indoor field house does not yet have a blueprint, a projected size, or even a price tag.

The indoor features have not been picked.

"We're throwing everything out there, from a 200-meter indoor track, more basketball courts to a soccer field, indoor baseball fields (and) maybe even a pool," said Paul McDonnell, the Buffalo Public Schools director of facilities.

The district has four potential sites where the field house might be built, but is awaiting public input to determine where it should go, how big it should be and what it will contain.

"That's what the input is for. It will determine what we'll be going forward with," McDonnell added.

The first of four community input meetings at schools near the proposed field house sites was held Tuesday at Marva J. Daniel Futures Preparatory School, near the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Sports Pavilion and Masten Park.

A second meeting is planned from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Bennett Park Montessori School at 342 Clinton St., near JFK Park – another possible site for the proposed field house.

A community meeting to discuss locating the field house in Shoshone Park is scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 19 at Bennett Park High School, 2885 Main St. A fourth meeting is planned near the fourth proposed site, Glenny Park on Bailey Avenue, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 21 at the Math Science Technology Preparatory School at Seneca, 646 E. Delavan Ave.

"We're looking at all type of managerial solutions. It may not be just the Buffalo Public Schools and it may not be just the City of Buffalo, but a third party that's brought in to help manage it. Those are the things we're going to have to try to determine," McDonnell said.

Tuesday's meeting with architects and sports planners from Cannon Design centered on concerns about preserving green space at Masten Park and mitigating potential traffic, emissions and parking issues in the surrounding neighborhood.

James Lai, a sports planner with Cannon Design, noted that the primary criteria for each of the four proposed sites is that they each had to be located near one of the city's public schools and accessible to patrons coming from around the city, as well as having the potential for development.

"We wanted to know the potential pros and cons of these sites," said Lai.

Currently, Lai said, there is limited on-site parking at Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilion.

Others attending the meeting also expressed concern about the field house's potential to create parking problems in the neighborhood.

"I grew up in that neighborhood when the Buffalo Bills played there and it was the Rockpile and the Bisons played there. Whenever you had a sporting event in that location, parking and traffic was terrible for the neighborhood," said Timothy J. Brown, deputy chief of staff to Masten Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo.

Izeal Bullock III, a certified track and field instructor, said it might make sense to have more than one indoor facility to accommodate different sports programs, though that idea does not appear to be under consideration.

"The aquatic center would be over here in North Buffalo, the indoor athletic field would be over here in South Buffalo, and the multiuse indoor track and field would be at the Johnnie B. Wiley facility. That way, we wouldn't have everyone fighting for parking," Bullock said.

Officials from Cannon Design estimated the Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilion at about 330,000 square feet, and the adjacent Masten Park at about 407,000 square feet. Some at the meeting said planners should be mindful to preserve as much green space as possible, as well as preserve some of the already existing outdoor amenities, such as the swimming pool and basketball courts.

The Ralph C. Wilson Foundation is funding the project. The grant to pay for a feasibility study will be administered by the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, which hired Cannon Design to assist the Buffalo Public School District and the City of Buffalo.

The deadline for choosing a site is October, said McDonnell.

Andy Rabb, the city's deputy commissioner of public works for parks and recreation, said collaboration on the project between the city and the school district is vital.

"I think the primary beneficiary of an indoor sports complex would be the public school students, the city resident youths," Rabb said.

"Buffalo parks, right now, our outdoor facilities, the primary users of park fields, diamonds, basketball courts, the tennis courts, are Buffalo Public Schools. We reserve their schedules first before other leagues. So an indoor facility would be a continuation of a partnership like that," Rabb added.

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