Weekly Feature



2018-10-10 / Front Page

Community center task force issues report: More space needed for activities

by ETHAN POWERS
Editor

A self-organized group of community leaders and interested residents have spent more than a year gauging public perception as to whether the Town of Clarence needs a community center that would merge the Clarence Youth Bureau, Clarence Recreation Department and Clarence Senior Center into a single, shared facility.

The answer they received was consistent across all demographics: There’s not enough space in current town facilities.

While the Town Board has yet to endorse the idea of a community center, the task force has been hard at work gathering data from public input sessions held from April to August at sites throughout the town, including the Senior Center, library, Town Park Clubhouse and area fire halls.

Bob Poczik, who sits on the board of directors for the Clarence Senior Center and was instrumental in the organization of the task force, says that the core components of a potential community center most frequently asked for were uniform across age groups.

At the public sessions, the task force handed cards to guests with 30 potential facets of a community center and at each one, says Poczik, the answers were steady in that they included a dining room, lounge area, classrooms for learning and presentations, a fitness room and a gym with a running track that would be raised and located along the upper perimeter.

“The results were absolutely consistent across the groups. People from different settings and age groups basically had the same requests for things they’d like to see,” said Poczik. “This is an opportunity to provide a town center that provides for residents from preschool to eldercare, all in one facility, with the possibilities that come with people seeing each other, interacting with each other, and attending programs with an audience that crosses generations.”

The benefits of a community center are numerous and apparent, says the task force. Additional recreational opportunities could be provided for every demographic, teens could gather in a supervised setting, seniors could see a much-needed improvement of facilities and the town’s sports teams could access more practice space.

“Our membership ranges from 55 years old to 100, and it’s often difficult to plan programming for that wide of a demographic, especially with limited space,” said Violet Olinski, chairwoman of the Senior Center Board. “Our largest room is the dining room and it is constantly in use.”

Dawn Kinney, executive director of the Clarence Youth Bureau, reiterated to the Town Board that the town’s recreation department lacks the ability to expand its services because it is dependent on the school district for its gym space.

“Our hands are really tied in terms of expanding our programming. We’re very proud of the numbers we’re serving, but we’re also limited because we don’t have the space,” she said.

Kinney added that she hopes to one day provide the type of lucrative extracurricular activities that neighboring towns offer to youth.

“In talking to other recreation departments in Amherst, Cheektowaga and Orchard Park, is that they generate a lot of revenue from their recreational activities, especially summer camps and after school programs,” she said. “I would love to see us be able to do that, and this type of facility would allow us to do that.”

Dennis Priore, a trustee of the Clarence Board of Education, added that should the town see support for a community center, it could alleviate the congestion of its sports teams competing for limited play space.

“This center could be a wholesome activity center where youth could come together,” he said. “There’s always a need for more practice spaces for our sports teams. Instead of going outside our town, we could do that in town and recoup some of that revenue.”

As one of Clarence’s longest-serving clergy members, the Rev. Greg Hall is frequently asked by residents where he would consider the “center” of the town to be. For Rev. Hall and for many others, the answer is still ambiguous, which Rev. Hall says presents a problem for those visiting Clarence for the first time.

“Having a community center, particularly on this [Town Hall] campus, we’d be creating the heart of the community,” he said. “People sometimes think they’re moving to an upscale community and when they see the inadequacy of the youth center and the dated-ness of the Senior Center, the message that the two facilities give is that this is a decaying town and not a growing town.”

In a recent status report to the Town Board, the task force issued several recommendations to the board that could facilitate a path forward for a potential community center.

The group requested that the board include an allocation of up to $70,000 in the 2019 budget for the hiring of an architectural firm, which could develop square footage and cost estimates, as well as site plans. The task force also informed board members that it would be able to provide polling services at a nominal cost to the town.

Countless input sessions and discussions with residents have not only revealed the apparent need for more space and updated facilities, but have also generated apprehensions as to potential cost to taxpayers, accommodating the diverse groups wanting to use the center, safety and security as well as liability and insurance.

While Poczik understands the hesitancy and the need to be thorough when considering all sides of the equation, he remains adamant that the potential benefits outweigh the detriments, which he says can be ironed out with proper planning.

“We’ve been working on this for the past 18 months,” he said. “We understand the feasibility issues, but we’re pretty convinced that there’s a genuine need for a generational community center in Clarence and that such a center would improve the quality of life for all residents.”

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