Schenectady County

Opposing sides square off over proposed Niskayuna recreation facility

Supporters of a proposed indoor recreation facility and those opposed to the town taking on the proj

Supporters of a proposed indoor recreation facility and those opposed to the town taking on the project voiced their opinions Thursday before the town board.

Supporters called the project needed in the town, where indoor practice space is limited. They also argued money would not come from the town’s general fund, but from parkland fees that come from developers. Operating costs and debt payments would be covered by rental fees.

Those against the proposal, or at least against the town putting it at Blatnick Park, argued that in tough times, the town needs to focus on basic needs, not building a new recreation facility. There were also arguments that the building itself would detract from Blatnick Park.

Speakers from both sides got their share of applause in the packed chambers.

Supervisor Joe Landry and board member Julie McDonnell are proposing the facility be built on the old skate park at Blatnick. The 120- by 220-foot building is to be enclosed and house soccer and lacrosse practices and other uses.

The facility would be operated through fees for use, they said. McDonnell has said she was pretty comfortable that the town will take in more money than the cost of operating it.

The total cost is set at $650,000, with lacrosse and soccer clubs providing $200,000 in cash and another $56,000 in in-kind services. The town proposes to contribute $450,000, $100,000 up front from parkland funds and $350,000 through bonding. Usage fees would cover both operating costs and debt service, with parkland funds available as a backup.

The building is to be included in a total town bonding estimated to be at $3 million and voted on at the April 19 meeting. It had been talked about for March 27, but the date was set Thursday for the meeting after that, April 19. The largest portion of the bond is to be for a new water and sewer garage.

Resident Brett Steenburgh spoke out in favor of the plan. He coaches and his son Chase, 9, plays soccer.

Steenburgh argued there are many advantages for both the town and the soccer and lacrosse clubs. For the clubs, it gets them out of practicing in gyms, which are too small.

“Having a facility like this would be a huge benefit,” Steenburgh said. “There are things that can’t be practiced, like corner kicks.”

Steenburgh’s son also commented later in the meeting, saying he “would really like a stadium.” He told the board it’s more difficult to control the soccer ball in the gym. A handful of other youths also spoke out in favor.

Resident Aaron Hull, though, spoke out against the facility. He argued that now is not the time for the facility. Times have changed. Hull also argued that the town can’t worry about costs clubs pay at private facilities and the town can’t compete with private facilities.

He argued that his daughter takes dance lessons. If those costs go up, he wouldn’t be asking for the town to build a dance studio.

“It would become a learning experience for my daughter. The opportunity is to teach her that not everything will be given to her, that sometimes you need to make hard choices, that staying within your budget is critical in life,” Hull said, “that government isn’t always going to be there to help pick up the tab on non-essential services.”

Earlier in the meeting, McDonnell gave a presentation on the proposal, including expected costs and the history. The current rate estimate for using the facility is $75 per hour. The going rate at a private facility is about $200, she said.

Estimated operating expenses are $31,000 annually, with debt service at about $24,000 annually. Estimated revenues would be just over those figures.

Town board member Jonathan McKinney challenged those figures, saying his conversations with private facilities put operating costs closer to $100,000.

McKinney has also made a counter proposal, to have a private vendor come in and build a facility on town land. A town attorney said Thursday night that such a proposal on park land was illegal, but that it could be done on town land that wasn’t designated as a park.

McDonnell argued that the building would benefit a large segment of the town, 500 children. She referenced previous estimates of 250 children in each club, though with some overlap.

“That’s a lot of kids and that’s just the two clubs,” McDonnell said. “That’s the present membership. Think about all the kids in the future that will benefit too in this area of sports. These sports are growing. I just think that this isn’t a specialized area of the community.”

McKinney noted his long history of supporting the clubs. But he said the question is, does the town have the funds and will those funds be there in the future.

“Anywhere we can save money, until we get through this tough time, we should,” McKinney said. He added a short time later, “it’s not a question of my support, it’s a question of timing.”

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