Mayor Thane discusses recreation center ideas with school board

Mayor Ann Thane and Director of Community and Economic Development Robert von Hasseln addressed the Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education at the regular meeting on Wednesday, in regards to looking at a plot of district-owned land as one of several possible locations for a proposed recreation center in the City of Amsterdam.

The mayor said that the city has been considering various sites as they seek to apply for state grants to fund the project, but have not yet settled on a location. Thane said that the former site of the P&C at the Five Corners was under consideration, but that the location may be unsuitable due to the possible contamination of the site.

Another location that was considered was Veteran’s Field, however Thane said that she would prefer to look elsewhere given that the large recreation center would disrupt the green space of the park and would create traffic in the residential community.

The third site that the city is considering is property owned by the school district located on Widow Susan Road behind the athletic fields for the Marie Curie Institute of Engineering and Communication.

Thane said, “This seems to be a collaborative opportunity for the school district and the city to work together to put something together that would serve as an economic driver for the city and school district, and help with taxes.”

The building would feature three basketball courts and a regulation size indoor track which Thane said the city hopes would draw in people from throughout the region. She added that the city has been in contact with developers from outside of the region who are interested in building other types of sporting facilities just outside of the city on the south side, presenting the opportunity for Amsterdam to become a destination for sports in Upstate New York.

In order for the city to begin the grant application process, the city must first obtain a letter from the board of education allowing them to do basic surveying and testing on the property. Offering the city this permission would not obligate the school board to offer the use of the land to the city.

According to Von Hasseln this is the first step in determining the feasibility of the project, after that he said, “if it turns out it is feasible then we can sit down and talk about would you like to sell us the land, would you like to lease us the land, would you like to go into a joint partnership, are you not interested at all.”

Based on the schedule for the Consolidated Funding Applications for economic development grants von Hasseln said that in order for the city to move forward with a grant application it would need a letter of permission from the board within the next one to two months otherwise the city wouldn’t have the opportunity to submit a grant proposal until next spring.

The Mayor and Von Hasseln noted that finding a location for the 75 thousand square foot building was a challenge as it would require approximately two acres of land without provisions for parking. Von Hasseln pointed out that the site would feature a fairly direct route enabling people from outside of Amsterdam to easily find it. Thane added that the walking trails and the athletic fields surrounding Marie Curie could provide further incentive for people to visit the facility.

Board member Robert Vennett asked the school district’s attorney William Mycek if it would in fact be possible to write a resolution allowing the city to do surveying on the land without entering into any sort of land use agreement. Mycek said that such language could be used, although he questioned the purpose of taking this action, of having the city spend the time applying for a grant, then spending the money testing the site if the board wasn’t interested in pursuing the project.

Of greater concern to Mycek is the need to refine the details of the plan. Mycek said, “I frankly think there should be more specification as to exactly what property you’re talking about. You’re saying 2 acres, but maybe it’s more acreage and we have about 70 acres up there?”

Superintendent Thomas Perillo answered that the district owns 82 acres in that location. This prompted Mycek to ask, “Don’t you want to confine that to an area?”

Von Hasseln said that they could provide the board with more specifications on a location. Thane noted that there were further details that needed to be worked out in terms of planning and funding, but that the city was looking to begin the process.

Thane concluded by saying, “I think the point though is that we want to work together to meet the needs of our community and this is an expressed need that goes back far before I took office. The desire for a rec center seems to be a very important one, I‘m sure you’ve all heard it and I hear it frequently, so we‘re just trying to meet the needs of our community.”

Ashley Onyon

Ashley Onyon is a graduate of the journalism program at SUNY Albany. She has contributed articles to The Mohawk Valley Independent and the annual journal Upstream.