September 3, 2014

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Land donations boost Amherst rec prospects

AMHERST — When voters in the Amherst school district rejected a special ballot issue in May that would have partially paid for a new community recreation center, Lorain County Metro Parks Director Dan Martin figured the idea was buried.

Dan Martin, director/secretary of Lorain County Metro Parks, speaks at the unveiling of a Wellness Zone to be built on donated property in Amherst. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

Dan Martin, director/secretary of Lorain County Metro Parks, speaks at the unveiling of a Wellness Zone to be built on donated property in Amherst. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

“I assumed the project was dead at that point, so I put the plans away,” Martin said. “It wasn’t going to happen.”

But thanks to some behind-the-scenes discussions the few past weeks, the project is alive and kicking, and bigger than before.

Addressing a crowd of about 75 in the showroom of Premier Toyota on Wednesday afternoon, Martin said the recreation center is back on the drawing board — along with an outdoor play area for those with special needs, and the eventual continuation of an existing bikeway extending from the park district’s Amherst Beaver Creek Reservation south across Route 2 to land just north of the auto dealership.

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Martin stressed repeatedly that the new venture calls for “building a park, not just a building.”

With a target opening date of Jan. 1, 2013, the rejuvenated proposal is possible due to a number of factors, chief of which is the donation of two large pieces of land to the park system. One is an eight-acre parcel donated to the parks by farming brothers Tom and Jim Hollstein. The other is a 13-acre piece of land being given by Robert and Lorie Campana, who are part of Lorain’s family-owned P.C. Campana Inc., which produces materials and equipment for the steel industry.

The rec center and parking area would be developed from the Hollstein land, while the Campana acreage would be preserved as a natural area encompassing the extended bikeway.

The exact value of the acreage involved was not disclosed, but Martin said the two parcels of commercially zoned land are probably worth an estimated $3 million to $4 million dollars.

Martin said he plans to ask the parks’ board of directors for its stamp of approval on the plan — including a $2 million fundraising campaign — next week.

Exact costs of the project have yet to be worked out, but Martin said the rec center, being termed a wellness center on initial drawings, would likely cost $5 million to $6 million. To be similar in scope to the park system’s popular Splash Zone in Oberlin, the Amherst rec center would include a multi-lane swimming pool and a variety of fitness facilities. To be built in phases, the project also includes land for an attached gymnasium facility to be added at a future date.

“This is going to take a lot of time and planning,” Martin said.

Martin drew applause when he noted that the new project will not require any tax dollars, referring to a $26 million ballot issue voters rejected in May that would have covered part of the costs for a 45,000- to 50,000-square-foot, $12 million rec center.

A $2 million federal grant will be sought for extension of the Beaver Creek bikeway across a Route 2 bridge to the new acreage north of the highway.

“The paperwork should be ready by the end of next week,” Martin said of the grant application.

Major partners in the venture include Lorain County Community College, which could look to offer training and other educational opportunities at the site for students pursuing careers in the recreational field.

Other chief partners include the Lorain County Board of Mental Health and Lorain County Board of Developmental Disabilities, both of which will work with the park district on development of an outdoor water playground designed specifically for people with special needs.

“We are happy to lend our expertise and be part of plans for this inclusion (to integrate special needs facilities into the community rec center),” said Amber Fisher, superintendent of the Lorain County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Martin said the outdoor area was inspired by one he saw in the western United States.

“Kids put on rain slickers and ran through water in their wheelchairs. It was fantastic. Imagine the kids who would never be allowed to do that,” Martin said. “This way they can run around playing with brothers and sisters like any other kid.”
Amherst Mayor David Taylor voiced his support for the proposal.

“I know this will be successful,” Taylor said. “They’ll do it right.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.