Salamanca school board approves final Vets Park project plans

With the public vote on the next proposed capital project in the Salamanca City Central School District less than two months away, the Board of Education has taken one last look at what the project could entail.

The estimated $34.7 million project would see work done at Veterans Memorial Park, the Seneca Intermediate and high school campus, Prospect Elementary School and the bus garage.

The project would have no tax increase and no financial impact to the community, district officials said.

At their April 2 meeting, the school board unanimously approved the finalized scope and dollar amount of the potential project that will be put before district voters.

On May 21, district residents will have the opportunity to approve or reject the proposed project during the annual budget and board election vote.

“We have fully vetted the financial implications of the project — it’s still a zero percent increase to the community — and what the totality of the work will be in the May 21 referendum,” District Superintendent Robert Breidenstein said.

After approval to lease Vets Park from the city in December, Breidenstein said the district held several meetings with various focus groups containing students, athletes, school employees, community members and city and Seneca Nation officials to see what improvements were wanted at Vets Park and other district facilities.

“I would characterize (the meetings) as very positive, interactive and forward-thinking,” he said. “The city representatives and Seneca Nation representatives have been extremely instrumental in helping us shape this proposal.”

Breidenstein said all those who attended the previous meetings had been engaged, thoughtful and gave valuable suggestions on how the project could improve both the school district and the economic revitalization within the community.

A final presentation on the potential scope and financial details of the project was recently delivered by its architects, engineers and financial planners for the board and public.

During that meeting, Jeff Robbins, architect from HUNT-AES, went through each site highlighting where the renovations or additions would be.

At Vets Park, some trees would be removed at the north end of the park to make room for a relocated multipurpose field for football, soccer and lacrosse as well as two box lacrosse fields. This would allow for a full baseball field that doesn’t bleed onto the football field, Robbins said, so multiple contests could be held at the same time.

At the multipurpose field would be new bleacher stadium seating with a football team room, concessions and restrooms located underneath and a new press box, Robbins said.

Around the facilities would be a new driveway west between Broad Street and Front Avenue, two new parking lots and handicap parking near the field, a new playground area and a walking trail, Robbins said, pending acquiring property from neighboring lots.

At the high school and Seneca Intermediate campus, a renovated track and field area would see an eight-lane track with a multipurpose sports field inside, Robbins said. Additional parking off Fern Avenue southwest of the track and field would also be added.

An addition to the bus garage and new parking next to it would relocate the tennis courts, which would be increased to five courts, east of the high school next to Iroquois Drive. Several rooms inside the high school and Seneca would also be renovated and repurposed, including a new Seneca Nation suite as part of the district offices remodel and addition.

At Prospect Elementary, a new north wing connecting the middle and east wings would be built and allow for five new educational spaces for the school, including a STEAM room.

“I think when the design process finally ends and we submit to the state, we are going to have a project that represents what we value as a community,” Breidenstein said.

In all, about $12.7 million would be invested in Vets Park, about $6.5 million at Prospect, about $12 million at the high school/Seneca campus and $2.5 million at the bus garage.

“We have included as much as we can in this project at this time until our state aid resets, and this will get us through that period of time where we can maximize the most amount of state aid that we can get,” Breidenstein said. “There’s a lot in this project.”

Charles Bastian, from Bernard P. Donegan, Inc., financial planners, explained the details of how the project would be paid for in order to have no tax impact on the district residents.

Essentially, about $25 million would come from the district’s cash in-hand and reserves, about $3 million would come from various Native American financial aid and the remaining $6.7 million would come from bonding.

Michelle Miller, from Turner Construction, reviewed the potential timetable of the work to be done, which would take place over the course of three years, including planning, and happen at three stages across the district’s sites.

“We’re excited this project is responsible from a financial standpoint, forward-thinking from and instruction and community standpoint and also very culturally responsive to our community,” Breidenstein said. “And, of course, it’s all at no additional cost, and that’s something that puts us in an enviable position in the Southern Tier and Western New York.”

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)

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