Salamanca school, city to discuss Vets Park future (Updated)

A meeting of the Salamanca Recreation Commission has been set for April 23 for the city and Salamanca City Central School District to discuss a potential facilities project at Veterans Memorial Park.

For several months, school and city officials have been discussing the possibility of renovating or repairing much of the city-owned park, particularly its athletic fields.

“The long-term goal of this is it will build the community,” said Common Council member Michael Lonto, R-Ward 3.

In a conversation with the Press, Lonto, the recreation commission chair, said school superintendent Robert Breidenstein is supposed to attend the meeting with the commission. He said he was not aware if any other school officials would attend.

Calls made to Breidenstein seeking comment were not returned by press time Tuesday.

In its December meeting, the recreation commission discussed the logistics of what a major project at Vets Park would include, as well as ownership and responsibility of maintaining it.

According to Lonto, the tentative plans for the park include replacing the entire earth field area with artificial turf so bigger events and tournaments could be held there. He said removing some trees for more open space, installing locker rooms, building a new playground and re-positioning the football and lacrosse field could also be considered.

“It’ll be up to the city and the school district to push for this,” Lonto said.

So far, the commission has gone through a lot of the minor procedures, Lonto said, including receiving approval from the Seneca Nation of Indians to sublet the property. Even though New York state donated the land to the city, the city pays a lease to the Nation because it is on Native territory.

“We’ll be looking at a long-term lease for that,” he explained. “But all of this is going to depend on being approved in the school’s budget.”

The school district approved its tentative 2018-19 budget April 10, so allocating funds for a project at Vets Park would have to be included in next year’s budget at the earliest.

In April 1927, the park was dedicated as a memorial of Salamanca soldiers. Following a fundraising drive, development on the former state nursery plot off Broad Street began the following month.

The city has hosted several large events in the park for many years, most notably the Marvin Joe Curry Veterans Pow Wow. In July 1989, the first Native American powwow dance competition was held at Veterans Memorial Park. More than 200 dancers from across the United States and Canada competed in the event.

The school district currently uses the park for several of the school’s athletic events, notably as the home field for the varsity football and lacrosse games.

“I’m excited about it,” Lonto said. “Once we get everything done, we’ll have a showcase field.”

UPDATE - 4/24/18

SALAMANCA — The Salamanca Recreation Commission and officials from the Salamanca school district Monday discussed the potential of a facilities project at Veterans Memorial Park.

After previous discussions with the Salamanca City Central School Board of Education, Superintendent Robert Breidenstein said the school would work with the city and Seneca Nation of Indians to make it possible for the school to renovate the park.

“If the district were able to be the lead agent on this, to take charge on improvements to the field, it could be a powerful statement of collaboration and intermunicipal cooperations for the community at no expense to anyone,” he said. “Its funds are already in the district reserves.”

Common Council member Michael Lonto, recreation commission chairman, said some of the ideas considered include installing artificial turf for football, lacrosse and soccer games, a new grandstand with concessions and restrooms underneath and shifting the field so baseball and lacrosse could be played at the same time.

“It would save the city some money on maintenance of the fields,” Lonto explained. “The school would do that, so we don’t have to worry about cutting the grass or flooding. If there’s snow, they sweep it off, bring it out and dump it over the fence.”

Although the district uses Vets Park for school football, lacrosse and baseball games, it’s owned by the city. Additionally, that property is leased to the city by the Nation, meaning any work would have to be OK’d by the Senecas as well.

“First, the Nation and the city would have to agree to amend the current lease to allow the school district to be a sub-lease agent to the city’s lease to the Nation,” Breidenstein explained.

Besides the agreement with the Nation and city, Breidenstein said approval from New York state would be needed in order for the school to make renovations. He said a long-term lease agreement for a minimum 20-year period would likely have to be approved.

If the lease is approved to sublease, Breidenstein said the school district would have to hold a referendum vote for all school district residents in the upcoming months and allocate the necessary funds to spend on improving the site.

“An athletic-geared project is far easier to plan and design than a building construction project on a school campus,” he said. “The scope is different, the size is different, the intricacies are a lot less, but there would still need to be some planning.”

If the lease amendments were to be approved, the city, Nation and school district would continue discussing planning the project, specifically deciding on a cost. Breidenstein said the hope is to have all three groups involved in designing the project.

Even though the district has the available funds in the bank to finance a potential project, Breidenstein said the school needs assistance from the city and Nation to promote the project as a positive thing for the community.

“That’s really important,” he said. “We have to get all of our ducks in a row. … There has to be universal agreement it’s used for athletics, cultural and civic events.”

Lonto said everything is in the planning process, “but we as a city have to come together and allow the school district to put it on a referendum vote and pass it. That means we have to get involved and help that pass.”

(Contact editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter, @Kellen_Quigley)

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